BENTON — Selectmen are considering a renewed franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable, but board members are concerned that adding a franchise fee to the contract could burden Benton cable television customers unfairly.

Selectman Antoine Morin started looking into implementing a franchise fee as a way to generate new revenue for the town. After discussing the proposal with other selectmen, he concluded that it would be inappropriate to add more costs to Benton customers who already are facing increased school taxes.

“The consensus seemed to be that assessing a fee at this time is essentially a tax by another name,” Morin said.

Cable companies sign franchise fee agreements with municipalities in order to use town-owned rights of way to run wires and equipment that are part of its network.

As compensation, towns and cities can negotiate to receive up to 5 percent of the gross revenue a company collects from customers in town. Cable companies are allowed to pass that fee on to their customers.

When it negotiated its last agreement with Time Warner 20 years ago, Benton didn’t ask for a franchise fee. The 15-year agreement expired in 2010, but selectmen haven’t discussed renewing it until he recently brought it up, Morin said.

A lawsuit filed against Time Warner by neighboring Fairfield about claiming the company had failed to pay its franchise fees in full brought the issue to his attention, Morin said.

If selectmen negotiated for the highest allowable percentage of gross revenue, Benton could realize up to $26,000 a year in franchise fees, according to Morin. The fee would mean an additional $6 charge on an average $80 cable bill, he said.

With an increased School Administrative District 49 school budget potentially driving up property taxes, this year isn’t the time to ask more from Time Warner customers, Morin said.

Selectman Melissa Patterson is also opposed to adopting a franchise fee ultimately borne by cable customers.

“I don’t feel comfortable” asking for a new charge after the town went without one for 20 years, Patterson said.

One of the problems is that the new charge would affect only cable customers, Patterson said. Although the town might need to raise revenue to offset reductions in revenue sharing from the state, tax increases should affect Benton residents equally, not put the burden on a “select few” who are Time Warner customers, Patterson said.

Selectmen expect to discuss and take a vote on a renewed agreement with Time Warner at its meeting in May, Morin said. He already has communicated with Time Warner that selectmen will be asking for a zero percent franchise fee contract from the company, he said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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