Edgartown supports contract for Comcast cable to Chappaquiddick

Comcast said the brief interuption in service was due to system maintenance. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Edgartown selectmen at their Monday meeting endorsed an agreement with Comcast Corporation that would provide cable television service to Chappaquiddick as part of an Islandwide deal hammered out in negotiations surrounding the cable giant’s franchise agreement.

Though the service would come at a high initial cost, selectmen and members of the cable advisory board, which represented the six towns, said the agreement is the best available result from nearly two years of negotiation.

“If you live on Chappaquiddick, you must commit to cable service, you must pay $2,139, and if you live some distance from the road, you would have to pay an access fee,” Jennifer Rand, chairman of the advisory board and West Tisbury town administrator, said. “We recognize that’s not ideal. In a perfect world the residents of Chappaquiddick would be treated like any other resident of Martha’s Vineyard. I think the committee has worked very hard to stand by Edgartown, and has come to the conclusion that this is as good as it’s going to get.”

Ms. Rand said the issue was a priority with the advisory committee, and was the only remaining difference with Comcast over the past six months of negotiation.

Town administrator Pam Dolby sent a letter to 535 Chappaquiddick residents last week outlining the contract, including a map showing where Comcast would extend service.

“I’ve had a lot of feedback since the letter went out and none of it has been negative, which shocked me,” Ms. Dolby said.

Some Chappaquiddick residents were sharply critical of selectmen and members of the negotiating committee early in the negotiations, but many came to Monday’s meeting, and applauded them for their work.

“I’ve been to a lot of these meetings,” Roger Becker, chairman of the Chappaquiddick Island Association, said. “I was very impressed with the committee putting pressure on Comcast. They pushed hard, and that is much appreciated.”

Several Chappaquiddick residents asked selectmen to explore a way to help residents finance the initial $2,139 capital cost.

Under the contract, Edgartown will contribute $131,000 in funds Comcast will pay the town for capital improvement.

Residents asked the committee whether Comcast might require fewer than the minimum 270 customers within the one-year time limit, if the town could find a way to contribute more toward the cost of building the system.

“My biggest concern is coming up with 270 customers,” Mr. Becker said. “It would be a shame to let the year go by and have only 200, 220 customers.”

Selectman Art Smadbeck suggested establishing a betterment, similar to the way the town helps finance the cost of joining the town sewer system, or water system, over a longer period of time. He said town counsel should be consulted.

“I’m wondering if it would be legal for us to create a betterment, and if you sign up, it’s added to your tax bill,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “It might be a way to facilitate this.”

Mr. Smadbeck and selectman Margaret Serpa voted to endorse the agreement. Another vote is required once the contract is finalized, for selectmen to approve and sign it. Selectman Michael Donaroma was absent.

Other business

Also at Monday’s meeting, Ms. Dolby advised selectmen that she is asking representatives from the police department, zoning boards, and board of health to participate in a discussion about medical marijuana.

She said the discussion will focus on the town’s options for managing any medical marijuana dispensaries that want to locate in Edgartown, including public smoking laws and zoning regulations.

“Everyone wants to figure out how to work this out,” Ms. Dolby said. “You want to help the people this is meant to help.”

“There are a ton of landmines and detriments,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

This discussion will be part of next Monday’s selectmen’s meeting.

Ms. Dolby also asked selectmen to consider a back-up plan for pest control services now provided through the Dukes County Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. She noted that town officials in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury are considering action at town meeting to withdraw from the program. The county will ask towns to fund the entire cost of the program this year.

“My question is if Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven pull out, does it change what we have to pay,” Ms. Dolby said. “If every town doesn’t participate, they might not have enough money to go forward. Edgartown would have to find a way to take care of the school, the harbor. We may need to see if we can come up with an alternative to make sure we’re covered.”

Edgartown paid $18,159 in the current fiscal year to support the county program on top of the $244,997 that Edgartown taxpayers contributed to the fiscal 2012 county operating budget.