Councilors to discuss franchise agreement, zombie properties

Published Mar 20, 2017 at 4:00pm

The Common Council will hold a public hearing Wednesday evening just before its regular meeting on a proposed cable television franchise agreement.

The hearing will be at 6:45 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.

The council is returning to the matter of a franchise agreement with Time Warner. The deal was initially approved by the council in 2014, but lingered without final signatures or approval from the state’s Public Service Commission.

Combined with the company’s merger into Charter Communications, the agreement went unfinished for too long and must be approved again by the city.

The previous 10-year agreement expired in November 2013. Federal regulations allow business to be conducted according to the terms of an expired deal until a new one is forged.

The proposed deal would be a 10-year agreement on the franchise rights. Like the previous deal, this proposal calls for the city to receive 5 percent of the company’s gross revenues from cable television service less certain taxes, fees and expenditures.

The deal is not exclusive. If another cable company wants to operate in Rome, with access to the rights of way, it would need a franchise agreement as well.

Early in the last agreement, annual revenues were in the range of $420,000 to $435,000. In 2014, it had fallen to about $248,000, then it rebounded to $299,126 in 2015 and grew again to $314,384 in 2016.

The notification of the hearing was not made public for enough time in advance of the meeting, so there will be a second hearing as well. That hearing will be scheduled Wednesday, and will likely be held on Wednesday, April 12, the next regular meeting of the council. It also means that the council cannot act on the legislation to approve the franchise agreement until after the second hearing.

• Also on the agenda is legislation to create a special revenue account in the budget for demolition and repair of properties. This will allow the city to earmark funds obtained from third parties such as banks as part of property conveyances.

The city has, in recent years, taken a more firm stance on so called “zombie properties,” those that are foreclosed upon then languish in the hands of banks but with no property maintenance. In those cases, atrophied buildings become eye sores and are difficult to re-sell. So some banks are handing these properties over to municipalities, sometimes even with a monetary donation meant for maintenance.

This fund will allow the city to use the money specifically for these purposes, as a lack of such an account would mean the money would have to go into the general city budget and could be used for just about anything.

The legislation notes that the funds obtained in these cases must first be used to satisfy any outstanding taxes owed. The maintenance can then be done on any properties the city has taken in foreclosure, not just the one for which the money was obtained.

• Another resolution is for an extension to the agreement allowing YES Development to rehabilitate and take ownership of Old City Hall at 207 N. James St.

The company has been renovating the site into a mixed residential-commercial building. The deal will allow the company to take ownership upon completion, but there is a reverter clause that allows the city to retain ownership if the work is not finished by the deadline. That deadline has already been extended, largely due to the lengthy process of state approvals. The extension pushes the completion date back to June 30, 2017.

The company’s plan is to have a first floor focused on business, with the floor plan divided up based on the number of tenants. There will also be three second floor apartments and three more on the third floor. There’s a huge attic as well, with a fate to be determined.

Built in 1894, the building sits just south of Veterans Memorial Park on the west side of James Street.