• 55°

Who gets cable user fees?

Trustees from Rome, Union and Fayette Townships want county officials to share the wealth, if not hand it all over.

Both sides are waiting to see what their legal counsel has to say about the matter.

At issue is the user fee that cable companies are supposed to collect from subscribers.

Traditionally, the money has gone to the Lawrence County Commission's general fund. Trustees say that, according to state law, the money should go to townships.

Perry Township trustees sent Armstrong Utilities a letter several months ago, advising general manager Gordon Waters of their contention that the money belongs to townships and not the county.

Rome Township Trustee Charles Fuller agreed. He attended yesterday's meeting and said the issue of the cable user fee money has been a matter trustees have discussed at length.

"We believe it's township funds," Fuller said. "We've been working some time on this. It took a while to get everything together, but we think we can get this resolved."

But county officials have long contended that money belongs to the county.

There are two cable companies that operate in Lawrence County. Adelphia Cable primarily serves the city of Ironton. Armstrong Utilities provides service to most of the rest of the county.

Armstrong alone contributes approximately $150,000 a year to county coffers.

Even split among the county's 15 townships, Fuller said the money could be a big boost to local budgets trying to provide their constituents the most services for their tax dollars.

"Every little bit helps," Fuller said. "If you look at the townships involved, that's where the bulk of the population is in the county."

The two sides met behind closed doors Thursday with Jeff Smith, who represents both the county commission and for the townships.

"We want to work this out with trustees," Commission President Jason Stephens said. "We don't want to see a lawsuit."

Stephens conceded that the loss of such money could put an even bigger strain on an already tight county budget.

"That's 150,000," Stephens said. "That's a big chunk of our budget."

The most recent Armstrong Utilities user fee disbursement check for $41,732 will be put into an escrow account until the matter is resolved.

The issue of the challenged user fee generated two debates Thursday.

Stephens and fellow Commissioner Paul Herrell wanted to discuss the matter in an executive session. Patterson said he wasn't sure if the matter should be discussed behind closed doors or not. He cast the lone vote against going into an executive session.

"I just had reservations," Patterson said. "Where was the legal reason to go? I couldn't determine one way or the other. We discussed this before the meeting started and I had reservations. We were walking a fine line."

Stephens countered the matter could lead to legal action if not resolved and should be discussed privately.

Ohio law allows government entities to go into executive sessions for only a few specific purposes, among them: "conferences with an attorney for the public body concerning disputes involving the public body that are the subject of pending or imminent court action." Teresa Moore/The Ironton Tribune