Amherst Media asking town to release capital funds

Staff Writer
Monday, August 02, 2021

AMHERST — Capital funds from Comcast that would be used to buy equipment for Amherst Media have not yet been released by the town, prompting the head of the nonprofit public access and information center to contend this is a violation of its contract with the town.

For Town Manager Paul Bockelman, though, the contract is explicit that money should be used to buy equipment, and he is concerned that the request from Amherst Media is to instead put the money toward mortgages held on land on Main and Gray streets where a new headquarters would be built.

Amherst Media Executive Director Jim Lescault said the appeal to release the money dates to December, when he requested that $139,000 from the Comcast capital fund go toward retiring the remaining balance of the bank mortgages, a way to improve its financial position before constructing the building that would replace the site it rents on College Street.

“We decided that if we paid off the mortgages’ balance, we would apply the land assessment of $350,000 as collateral while seeking our construction loan,” Lescault said. This would also relieve about $14,000 per year in interest, he said.

Bockelman, though, said this arrangement is different from what Amherst Media officials said they needed in the 10-year license renewal negotiated in 2016. That has $675,000 earmarked for equipment and facility needs. The total package is for $1.125 million, with the remaining money going toward the build-out of a new I-net, or institutional network for the town: a fiber network that allows live broadcasting by Amherst Media and also carries the town phone system, email and security camera feed.

“I want to make sure our interests are protected, and their needs are met,” Bockelman said.

The Community Safety Working Group, which has been studying how to deliver alternate public safety services to the town and provide new oversight of the police department, wrote a letter to Bockelman and the Town Council expressing concern about what is happening.

“We would like to remind you all how much of an asset Amherst Media is to the community and how necessary their services are to continue to make local government more equitable and accessible to all Amherst residents.”