Madawaska’s select board torn on whether streaming its meetings live is worth paying for
MADAWASKA, Maine — After a year and a half of live streaming Madawaska’s town government meetings, St. John Valley Live has added a fee to its services, and Madawaska’s select board is torn on whether to move forward with live recordings. As of two weeks ago, its meetings are only available to those who attend in person.
The board is torn on whether streaming does more harm than good: if it discourages in-person meeting attendance or if it opens up accessibility for people who couldn’t otherwise come. By this spring, Madawaska was the only town still opting into St. John Valley Live streams.
During the pandemic, the feed was the only way for townspeople to view the meetings, but since the meetings began again in person, the board isn’t sure if having the streams is still valuable — and if it’s worth paying for.
Several weeks ago, Madawaska selectman and St. John Valley Live co-owner Jason Boucher approached Town Manager Gary Picard to alert the town that St. John Valley Live would now charge a $25 per-event fee to stream the meetings. Boucher said St. John Valley Live added the fee due to rising costs on the back end.
Boucher, who began streaming the meetings before being elected to the board, said if the town were to schedule several meetings in advance, St. John Valley Live would negotiate a lower per-meeting fee, because their costs would go down to produce the stream.
The select board considered the proposal at its May 25 meeting. Picard and Selectman Dan Daigle agreed they were concerned that if streaming continued, people would slowly stop attending in person altogether.
“Personally, I have come to the conclusion we live in a different time where I remember seeing 200 people at an annual town meeting,” Daigle said. “Today you would be hard pressed to get 50.”
During past board meetings, statistics show that dozens of people tune in from the mill, an elderly care facility, or from far away, Boucher said. He argued that streaming doesn’t discourage people from attending because if people want to raise a concern or otherwise participate in the moment, they still need to come in person.
As of now, the town has not opted into live coverage, though the select board decided that it will consider the proposal further at a future meeting. That said, St. John Valley Live will cover the annual town meeting on June 14. Costs for that event will be slightly higher, $50, because the event will require several camera operators and a producer.
When Boucher started the streams he wasn’t a selectman, just a person with the equipment for the job — he won a seat for his three-year term in July 2020. But now, with tens of thousands of dollars of equipment and rising fees from the streaming software they use, Boucher and his business partner, Charles Pelletier of WFKTV in Fort Kent, are moving to charge towns, schools and other events for the coverage.
Boucher said adding fees was a way of covering those expenses without moving to charge St. John Valley Live’s viewers.
“We’re not in it for the money, we’re just trying to cover our costs,” Boucher said.