OAKLAND — Plans to broadcast town government meetings are under way, but the cost of the voter-initiated move has yet to be determined.

Other area towns are split on whether the expense of broadcasting meetings is justified.

Town Manager Peter Nielsen, who is reviewing price quotes from vendors, said the council will probably make a decision on whether to fund a proposal in January.

“I would like to put something in the next budget to undertake this work because I think that keeping our residents informed is truly a worthy aim,” he said. “Everyone is interested in expanding the number of people we can reach with meeting coverage.”

The idea of broadcasting public meetings was brought to the town by residents seeking more accountability from local government. A petition supporting the idea presented to the town in July had 362 signatures.

Nielsen said he has received cost estimates ranging from $250 per meeting to $250 per month for an unlimited number of meetings.

The council usually holds meetings twice a month. Its committees hold meetings at various times.

The town will also choose between television and the Internet as the broadcast medium.

“There are those that get cable TV and those that don’t. There are those that have computers and those that don’t,” Nielsen said. “My guess is that anything we do is better than nothing.”

Because of the cost, Nielsen said the town is “caught in a crosswind between people who would like to keep taxes low and people who would like to see this happen.”

Neighboring towns have come to different decisions about whether the cost is worthwhile.

In Belgrade, Town Manager Greg Gill said he’s never heard a complaint about the town not broadcasting its meetings.

Gill said while he appreciates the advantage of broadcasting meetings, an estimated start-up cost of $15,000 is just too much.

“We don’t go looking for places to spend money,” he said.

Fairfield Town Manager Josh Reny said he knows people are watching the town’s council meetings on local television.

“We get feedback all the time, not only from Fairfield residents but people from around the area,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely important. It’s good to improve citizens’ awareness of what’s happening in town government.”

Reny said Fairfield is the sole municipal member of Central Maine Community Access Television, a local broadcaster that has the capacity to add other municipal members. Fairfield pays about $20,000 a year, the same amount it receives in franchise fees from Time Warner cable.

Nielsen said that, while the idea of broadcasting meetings is appealing, he would prefer to present options in the context of the town’s full budget.

“These decisions are better weighed with everything rather than in the flavor of the moment,” he said. “I don’t want to give short shrift to any of our ongoing programs.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

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