NILES City-run cable TV plans resurface

Voters have rejected plans for a cable system twice.
NILES -- Complaints about higher cable TV rates are prompting Mayor Ralph Infante to revive the idea of a city-run cable system.
Some residents have complained at council meetings about the cable service provided by Time Warner Cable, which increased prices earlier this year and implemented a digital cable system.
Voters have twice rejected a plan for a city-run system, most recently in November 2000.
"It's really up to council," Infante said. "They've got to do the legislation. If they don't pass the legislation, we can't do anything."
Infante lists three options: Council authorizes a city-run cable system, places it on the ballot a third time, or puts a 0.25-percent income tax on the ballot to provide free basic cable for city residents on the city system and help defray costs of the system.
Tax: A quarter-percent tax would generate about $800,000 annually.
"The easiest thing would be for council to pass it," said Samuel Natoli, service director.
That appears unlikely.
Last year, council rejected a proposal to spend $9,000 to educate the public about the benefits of a city-owned system before the election, saying the use of public money on a campaign is a gray legal area.
Council members' views run the gamut.
"If they want to put it back on the ballot that's fine with me," said Councilman Robert Marino Jr., D-at large. "I'm not in favor of passing it without a vote of the people."
If the administration had educated the public about the plan before the election it may have passed, he said.
"You don't wait until two or three weeks before an election to educate people," Marino said. "There was ample opportunity to educate the public -- parades, going door-to-door. Money doesn't win elections."
In favor: Councilmen Reginald Giancola, D-3rd, and Frank Fuda, D-1st, say they've been in favor of the idea since it was introduced.
Councilman Paul Hogan, D-4th, said he's open-minded but wants to see details of a plan.
Councilman Stephen G. Papalas, D-at large, agrees.
"I haven't changed my stance. I need to see a plan," he said.
Papalas doubts such a system would be successful and worries about costs. While administration officials contend other communities with their own systems report glowing success, Papalas says his research showed those communities went through some tough-going in their systems' early stages.
A 1998 study pegged the cost of a cable television system at between $7.11 million and $9.35 million and Infante acknowledges it would have to be updated.
Thomas A. Scarnecchia, D-at large, believes something needs to be done to address the rising cost of cable.
"I wish a citizens group would put together a petition to put it on the ballot," he said.
Public input: Scarnecchia wants to hear from citizens rather than pass legislation to create the system. He's heard from residents complaining about the rates.
"I get the idea they're people who may have voted 'No' the last time and now are thinking, 'What's going on with cable?'" he said.
Scarnecchia likes the 0.25 percent income tax idea. Papalas doesn't.
"I think our taxes should be going down, not up," Papalas said.
Councilman Michael Lastic, D-2nd, agrees the rising costs may mean the city should discuss the issue, but he prefers a return to the ballot.
The city could issue bonds to pay for it, the mayor said. The 1998 study indicated about 1,500 customers would be needed for the system to pay for itself.
The creation of a city-run system wouldn't replace Time Warner. Residents would be able to choose between the two systems, the mayor said.
"I just want to give people a choice," Infante said, adding that the city's system would be less expensive.

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