Columbia’s cable companies are about to be audited.
That was the decision of the Columbia City Council on Tuesday night when it accepted the recommendation of its Cable Television Task Force. The audits are intended to ensure the city is collecting the proper amount of franchise fees from cable companies Mediacom and Charter Communications.
Cable Task Force members said the audits don’t reflect any suspicion that the companies are failing to pay adequate franchise fees.
“It is not an attempt to indicate anything wrong is going on,” task force member Kirk Keller said, adding the group is still in the “fact-finding phase.” He also said the city has a “fiscal responsibility to the community.”
The task force was appointed late last year to advise the council as it pursues new franchise agreements with Charter and Mediacom and to oversee efforts to establish a public-access cable channel.
Other task force members said the audit is standard business procedure.
“Any two entities in a contracted financial relationship ought to look at each other’s books,” task force member Kent Collins said.
Gary Baugh, general manager of Mediacom, agreed.
“It’s just a basic business practice,” Baugh said. “Anytime one person is supposed to pay something to another, it is a way to double-check to see things are done right.”
Cable companies pay franchise fees totaling 3 percent of their gross receipts to compensate the city for the use of right of way.
The city collected $394,132 in cable franchise fees in fiscal 2002 and $400,000 in fiscal 2003, which ended Sept. 30. Collections for fiscal 2004 are projected to total $408,000.
Task force members also noted that there has never been an audit of the cable companies.
“It’s not a controversy. We probably should have done one years ago,” Collins said, adding that he believes nothing will come from the audit.
“I would be surprised if a fine company like Mediacom was not doing the right thing,” Collins said. “I think the audit will be boring. Boring audits are good for taxpayers.”