BELMONT — With an eye to increasing resident activity and interest in town politics, Selectman Jon Pike said last week that he would like to see the town restart its broadcasts of Selectboard meetings on Lakes Region Public Access television.
He said he recently saw the Belmont candidates night that was taped by Shaker Regional High School media students and broadcast by LRPA and said he thought the quality was good and said the town should begin taping its meetings again.
"We are under some obligation to tape and make for better transparency in government," Pike said, adding he would like to see all of the meetings held upstairs in the Corner Meeting House taped.
Pike noted that it has been some months since the selectmen stopped taping their meetings, despite the fact that room is set up for it. He said there is no money in the budget for someone to run the equipment and recommended reaching out to Lakes Region Public Access for some kind of solution and advice.
According to Denise Beauchaine, the director of LRPA-TV, tradition has been for her non-profit operation to go to municipal meetings when asked but with just $86,000 budgeted for 2013, she doesn't have the money to send someone to each meeting.
She said the way public access is supposed to work is for the individual communities to buy into the program by a fee (in Belmont it's about $15,700 annually) and send a representative to learn how the use the equipment.
LRPA studios are a part of the Huot Technical Education Center on the Laconia High School campus.
Belmont — and the other 11 members of LRPA — is paid a franchise fee that is collected by MetroCast Cablevision from its individual subscribers. In Belmont it will be $60,700 for 2013. Some communities return a portion of that money to the station but others do not.
Beauchaine said Belknap County Commission and Convention meetings are taped by LRPA staff for a charge of $100 per meeting because, unlike the 12 member municipalities, county residents do not pay the franchise fee collected through its customer base.
She said Huot Technical Center students do not tape meetings but produce multi-media programming with the school's equipment — not that of LRPA.
In the past five years, many communities have stopped paying LRPA to broadcast its meetings, choosing instead to use the franchise fees to use as "a revenue stream."
She said LRPA needs to "reset the button" as to sending people to tape municipal meeting because LPRA is not a news-gathering organization but is used as a complement to local mainstream media.
Of the 12 MetroCast member communities, only six — Belmont, Gilford, Laconia, Meredith, Alton and Northwood — continue to pay a portion of what they collect in franchise fees to LRPA for broadcast of their community meetings, a move that has reduced the LRPA overall budget.
As for Belmont, there is some question from Selectboard Chair Ron Cormier — a former member of the LRPA board of directors — about whether or not the town should restart LRPA broadcasts, given their current inability of pay someone to tape the meetings.
Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin suggested reaching out to the local school district for volunteers. He also agreed with Pike that Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin should reach out to LRPA and learn what is possible.
Beauchaine confirmed yesterday that she has been communicating with Beaudin and they are working to trying to get the Belmont selectman's meetings back on LRPA.