LMCC discusses big changes for future

by Amanda Schwarze

The Pioneer

Staff and programming cuts appear to be on the horizon for the Lake Minnetonka Communications Commission, but the extent of the reductions is not yet known.

The 2014 budget has proved a difficult one for LMCC officials. Already, two of the 17-member cities – Medina and Orono – have given notice that they will leave the organization at the end of this year. The deadline for cities to give notice that they are leaving is Oct. 15, so until that date passes, organization officials will not know how many cities will be members next year. Officials from Minnetrista and Victoria have indicated they might leave the LMCC if some of the fees collected from cable subscribers don’t start coming directly to the cities rather than going to the organization.

Prior to discussing the proposed 2014 LMCC budget at the commission’s Aug. 20 meeting, Orono Mayor Lili McMillan presented a proposal that she said could result in the city of Orono remaining a member.

McMillan proposed creating a subcommittee that would look into changing the joint powers agreement of the LMCC, which would require all cities involved to direct franchise with Mediacom. Currently, the LMCC is renegotiating the franchise agreement with Mediacom on behalf of its member cities. Medina and Orono officials, though, decided to conduct their own negotiations and the two cities have franchised directly with the company.

The new subcommittee would be chaired by the city of Orono, McMillan said, and would include two to three other LMCC commissioners. She also requested $2,500 to pay for legal consultations if needed. Within 30 days, the subcommittee would come up with recommendations for a revised JPA, McMillan said.

McMillan said that Orono decided to franchise directly with Mediacom because some of the city’s residents did not have access to cable or Internet services. Through the direct franchising, McMillan said that she felt Orono got an agreement that was tailored to them. She also said that she felt that direct franchising would work for the rest of the member cities as well.

Shorewood Mayor and LMCC Commissioner Scott Zerby voiced concerns about Orono leading the subcommittee. Deephaven Commissioner Steve Erickson said that his city enjoys negotiating with other cities for a franchise. LMCC Secretary Tom Fletcher of Greenwood also said that he is not a fan of direct franchising.

Other commissioners voiced doubt that anything would come of the subcommittee because a change in the JPA would require all of the members to agree. With some cities firmly against the idea of direct franchising, it seems unlikely that everyone would vote in favor of the changes. There were also concerns about whether the proposal could be adequately studied in 30 days.

Some of the commissioners, though, said they would be in favor of investigating the issue in hopes of keeping as many member cities in the LMCC as possible.

The commission voted to create the subcommittee, but they decided that it should include five to seven LMCC commissioners rather than two to three commissioners.

LMCC Vice Chair Joseph Huber from Shorewood then presented information on the 2014 budget. He said that three budgets have been prepared for the organization. One of the budgets assumed that Orono would remain a member, but since the city has given its notice that budget was disregarded.

The second budget assumes that 75 percent of the franchise fees that now go to the LMCC will go to the cities, while the remaining 25 percent will stay with the organization. Franchise fees account for more than half of the LMCC’s current funding.

The third budget assumes that the cities of Medina, Minnetrista, Orono and Victoria leave the organization. In the third budget, all franchise fees, though, would continue to go directly to the LMCC.

The third budget would leave the LMCC with $80,000 more in funding than the second budget. Some cities such as Minnetrista and Victoria, though, could decide to leave the organization if they don’t start receiving some franchise fees.

LMCC Executive Director Sally Koenecke said that the full affects of the budgets have not yet been fully determined. The second budget, with 75 percent of the franchise fees going to the member cities, would require “significant staffing and service reductions,” she said.

The third budget could mean that the organization might “potentially retain enough staff to continue community programming,” Koenecke said. It could also include some reductions in staffing and services, she added.

The commissioners decided to wait to make a decision on which budget they will recommend. The LMCC board recommends a budget, but a majority of the member city councils must approve it before it finalized.

Koenecke said that a special meeting of the LMCC commission was scheduled for Sept. 17. A second meeting was also scheduled for Sept. 24, though, because there were doubts as to whether a quorum would be present Sept. 17. The JPA subcommittee is expected to present the results of its analysis Sept. 17. The budget is expected to be discussed again Sept. 24, Koenecke said.

Contact Amanda Schwarze at [email protected]