By Timothy Cox
ROCKFORD -- Village officials plan to terminate the lease for a small strip of land used to house signal equipment owned by Time Warner Cable if the company will not negotiate in good faith.
Talks on two fronts have soured. Village officials are unhappy with the unyielding stance Time Warner officials have taken on a new franchise agreement that allows the company to operate in the village. Village officials also have been unsuccessful in bringing Time Warner officials to the table to negotiate the land lease.
The lease is for a small parcel at Shane's Park. Time Warner uses the site to house its signal head equipment that provides service to cable customers in Rockford, Mendon and Willshire.
Council member Keith Rutledge had suggested a month ago pulling out of the lease to get Time Warner to take notice. Other council members had resisted, until Tuesday, when they agreed to draft a letter exercising the town's right to opt out of the lease. Time Warner pays $300 monthly for the signal head site.
If village officials terminated the lease, Time Warner ostensibly would have to shut down and relocate its equipment. "Our backhoe people can remove the signal head equipment," if the company refuses to cooperate, Rutledge said.
Councilman Randy Gutierrez urged caution. "We're dealing with a pretty big corporation," he said.
Village officials apparently would call off the lease termination if Time Warner officials negotiate in good faith a new lease to replace the existing one that expires in April 2005. The current lease requires 120 days notice for the village to terminate the agreement.
Solicitor Judy Koesters said she has struggled to get in touch with Greg Garrett, the Time Warner official in charge of handling the land issue.
"I've left more messages than I can count," Koesters said. "He doesn't respond to my letters, he doesn't respond to my phone calls."
Some village officials believe the current $300 rent Time Warner pays is a pittance and are seeking a healthy increase. A couple of council members said $1,000 might be in the ballpark, while Gutierrez suggested hiking the monthly rent to $3,000.
"They're getting off pretty easy now," council member Eugene Steiner said.
Time Warner has about 330 customers in Rockford.
Village officials separately are negotiating a new franchise agreement to replace an agreement that also expires in April. The non-exclusive contract sets operating requirements for the cable company. Even if it expires, the cable company could continue to operate.
A Time Warner representative is expected to be at the Dec. 7 council meeting. The company and village officials have wrangled over a number of contract issues, mostly the originally proposed 20-year term. Time Warner has now offered a 10-year contract that includes an automatic renewal at the company's option for five more years, a time frame some village officials still find unacceptable.
Council members backed off their prior criticisms of the proposed franchise agreement and said the town should instead focus on the separate land lease deal with the company.
But Village Administrator Jeff Long said at least one franchise agreement issue remains to be resolved. Time Warner under the current deal was supposed to supply equipment for the community to operate a public access channel. That has never happened, Long said.