September 24, 2019

Council kills cable competition plan for third time

HOULTON – For the third time in six months, the Town Council has scrapped an order calling for multiple cable television service providers in the town.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the council voted 5-1 against an order introduced by Councilor Philip Bernaiche calling for competition in the town’s cable service.

Bernaiche wanted the town to award contracts to Houlton Cable TV – the current provider – and Pine Tree Cablevision of Wayne, Pa., the company to which the town awarded a 10-year contract in September.

“I’ve tried and tried and tried to get this and go through with it,” said Bernaiche before the vote. “I haven’t heard a bad thing about competition.

“I can go to any bank I want,” continued Bernaiche. “I can go to any doctor I want, but I can’t have my choice of TV service.”

The same order came before the council in July and again in September. It failed to get a second both times and was never discussed.

Houlton Cable has filed a suit against the town claiming that the town violated federal law in the contract renewal process, did not award multiple contracts and broke a contract that it had already negotiated with HCTV.

Councilor Michael Carpenter said that allowing competition at this point would “cause more legal mischief” since the town already has awarded a contract. Any changes now would open the door for Pine Tree to file a lawsuit against the town.

“Let the [HCTV] lawsuit play its hand,” agreed Councilor Paul Cleary.

In other matters, the council briefly discussed funding for a newly created economic development department.

A job description was drafted for the director of that department and the town is seeking applicants for that post, but as of yet, no way of funding it has been worked out.

One suggestion made last week at a budget workshop would add 1 mill to the municipal tax rate – the equivalent of about $172,000 – and use half to fund the new department and the other half to build up the town’s economic development fund.

With the town already facing as much as a 2.5 mill increase in the tax rate, that plan has not been popular.

A second suggestion made Tuesday by Cleary was to take $85,000 from the economic development fund and use it to fund the new economic development department, thus avoiding a tax increase.

Carpenter questioned that idea since it ran contrary to last week’s proposal to increase the fund so the town could better compete with other towns. He also questioned how the town could proceed with hiring someone when there was

no plan in place as to how to pay them or fund their department.

Council Chairman Paul Romanelli agreed.

“I don’t think you interview somebody without a budget,” he said. “If we want to be positive and do something, let’s fund the position, or get rid of it.”

Though he has favored the new department, Bernaiche expressed concern that with a pending increase in taxes, any additional spending would not be wise.

“We’re scaring the people all to hell with this talk of 2 mills on taxes,” he said. “We’ve got to know what we’ve got to spend before we give anyone else some money.”

A public hearing on the town’s 2001 municipal budget has been tentatively set for Monday, Jan. 29.

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