On December 26, 2016, the Daily Hampshire Gazette published an article penned by staff writer Scott Merzbach regarding Amherst Media current status of providing services to the town of Amherst without a contract.
AMHERST — For 40 years, Amherst Media has provided community access services to the community, including its continuing contribution of broadcasting numerous public meetings.
When the last 10-year deal with Comcast was reached in October 2006, the town and the entity then known as Amherst Community Television signed a coinciding agreement, with Amherst Media getting 5 percent of gross annual revenues from the local system to support what’s known as the “PEG” channels – the public, educational and governmental channels people associate with traditional cable access.
While this had been expected to continue when the town reached a new deal with Comcast in the fall, which also included $1.125 million in capital funding for Amherst Media, this is by no means certain, as town officials, in consultation with auditing firm Melanson Heath of Greenfield, say a new approach may be required.
New guidelines from the state’s Department of Revenue’s Division of Local Services no longer allows pass through of the approximately $300,000 in revenues collected annually from Comcast. Instead, the town will have to either create an enterprise fund or a special revenue fund with which to pay Amherst Media, or another provider, said Town Manager Paul Bockelman
“Because we are handling money differently, we have to handle the procurement differently,” Bockelman said.
In a memo to the Select Board, Bockelman writes that “treating the funds different means we will need to follow procurement law and publicly bid for the service that Amherst Media has been providing for the town. This is a significant change in our past practice.”
An enterprise fund could be created at annual Town Meeting next spring, or a revolving fund could be established, but the town would need to put up the $300,000 before it is received from Comcast.
Amherst Media Executive Director Jim Lescault, who met with Bockelman Friday, said a lot of uncertainly is caused by this new arrangement. “We’re sitting here not knowing how this will impact us,” Lescault said.
Lescault said he understands any money brought in by PEG has to find an account, but it is not mandatory to handle money the way the town is planning to do so.
A request for proposal means the town will be advertising for the service.
Bockelman told the Select Board this could mean someone else, such as the University of Massachusetts, bidding for the contract.
“I’m not sure anybody other than Amherst Media could respond, maybe the university could pull together a proposal or something,” Bockelman said,
Lescault said the uncertainty is a concern. “We’re not close to know if and when they’ll put out an RFP,” Lescault said.
If this happens, though, Lescault said he is confident that Amherst Media’s four decades of experience will speak loudly.
Select Board member Connie Kruger said she thinks an RFP process is a better way to go, to formalize goal setting for what the town wants, and for the Select Board to be more actively involved in spending decisions.
“I think it adds some benefits to the process,” Kruger said.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.