RUMFORD — Former Rumford Town Manager Len Greaney isn’t happy that a majority vote by selectmen at last Thursday’s board meeting didn’t give local television access WVAC Channel 7 most of the cable franchise fees Rumford receives annually.
Selectmen had two tie votes, which failed, that would have given the station 66 percent and 50 percent, respectively. They finally voted 3-1 to give 55 percent of the fees, or $20,652, because it matched last year’s amount.
Greaney, a WVAC TV director helping the station to develop an operating budget and seek grants, thanked the majority, and then returned to his seat and appeared to say something to resident Kevin Saisi, who also spoke on behalf of the station.
That prompted lone dissenter Selectman Greg Buccina to twice ask Greaney what he said, but Greaney told him he didn’t say anything.
It was Buccina who braced Greaney — in sometimes heated discussions — about cable franchise fees, which Rumford selectmen have the right to disperse.
As Town Manager Carlo Puiia introduced the topic — tabled from a previous board meeting — Greaney handed out his modified copy of WVAC TV’s business plan and made a case for 66 percent of the fees.
“This comes out to $25,000, which we hope to get for the station,” Greaney said, for changes and creating jobs.
The station provides service to the towns of Andover, Dixfield, Hanover, Mexico, Peru, Roxbury and Rumford, but usually only Rumford, Dixfield and Mexico provide funding.
Buccina then asked Puiia why WVAC TV didn’t ask for money via the initiated articles requests like other social services must do.
Puiia said the town passed an ordinance to return a certain percentage of cable franchise fees to the station.
“The fees come from not taxpayers but cable subscribers,” Puiia said. “A portion of their fees get distributed back to the town, which has the right to do what they want with the money.”
Greaney argued that Rumford should treat cable franchise fees like the town treats snowmobile registration money it receives from the state. All of that money gets reimbursed to the Rumford Polar Bears Snowmobile Club, he said.
“I like the analogy with the snowmobile club, but I never connected the dots. It makes sense,” Selectmen Chairman Brad Adley said.
Selectman Jeffrey Sterling said his son greatly benefited from working at WVAC TV during high school and is now pursuing it as a career through college classes.
“I think it’s important to fund Channel 7 for what its vision is tomorrow,” Sterling said, before motioning to give WVAC TV 66 percent or $25,050 of the cable franchise fees.
“This service is a real vital tool in this town,” by taping and showing municipal meetings, Adley said, seconding the motion. “You guys are doing a real admirable job.”
Buccina then said he wouldn’t support 66 percent when other towns served by the station don’t pay as much as Rumford does.
Buccina wanted the money spent on other town projects, to which Greaney then strenuously objected.
“I don’t appreciate being pressured,” Buccina heatedly replied.
Rumford Polar Bears Snowmobile Club President Ronald Russell then joined Buccina, vehemently disagreeing with Greaney. Russell said Greaney’s snowmobile analogy isn’t correct, because although they get money from 400 snowmobile registrations in Rumford, they only have 60 members and must maintain the town’s many miles of trails with it.
Russell then moved the question, silencing Greaney.
Eventually, Adley, Sterling and Belanger voted for Sterling’s motion for 55 percent after Sterling’s motion for 66 percent and Belanger’s motion for 50 percent both failed.