Salisbury Council Mulls Cable Contract Consultant

SALISBURY — With a Comcast franchise fee negotiation on the horizon, the Salisbury City Council is undecided on whether to invest in a consultant or handle the process in-house.

Council Vice President Deborah Campbell felt that, between the council and city staff, the negotiations should be workable without needing to hire a consultant.

“I think we are bright people,” said Campbell.

Campbell stated that “the temptation to just throw money at consultants” is not always the best strategy for results.

“To take that road without even trying [ourselves] isn’t very practical,” opined Campbell.

Campbell admitted that the city will probably need to use an attorney during the process, though she felt an intern might be able to handle it. Not everyone on the council shared Campbell’s confidence, however.

“We don’t have the expertise to do it in-house … not to do it properly, at least,” argued Councilwoman Laura Mitchell.

Mitchell pointed out that the city is generally cautious when developing contracts and recently spent roughly $10,000 to hire a consultant to assist in negotiating insurance plans. The deal with Comcast, she asserted, will be similar.

“These franchise agreements are at least as complicated,” said Mitchell.

Stumbling while negotiating or missing an opportunity, she asserted, could cost the city not only money, but services as well.

“It sets the standard for how Comcast customers are serviced,” she said. “It’s not to be taken lightly. …If we try to do this on our own, it’s not going to happen.”

Council President Terry Cohen remarked that both avenues will be investigated in the coming weeks.

“Whether or not a consultant is needed to renegotiate the franchise agreement remains to be seen,” she said. “The staff would like a consultant; the mayor prefers not to. The council will make a choice based on what is most likely to achieve the best outcome for the City. However, if a budget amendment is necessary, the mayor would have to advance it.”

With Salisbury’s current contract set to expire on Jan. 15, 2013 and with the negotiations typically taking about a year, the council will need to make a decision on how to handle the process soon.

However, if a decision can’t be reached, there is an option to simply extend the current contract, though Cohen asked the council not to depend on that.