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Video of the RMA meeting and timed highlights (1 hour, 15 minutes)

The Rancho Murieta Association board voted unanimously this week to allow Greenfield Communications, supplier of the community’s TV, internet and phone services, to transfer its lease of the RMA cable system to Varcomm Holdings, a telecommunications company based in tiny Ducor, Tulare County. At Tuesday’s session, the board also addressed concerns about what it charges teams to use the community’s sports fields.

In a telephone interview Friday, Eric N. Votaw, Varcomm’s president and CEO, said the company offers services in Ducor and Kennedy Meadows, between Fresno and Bakersfield, and in Rancho Tehama, near Red Bluff.  The company has a corporate lineage going back a century in the Ducor area. Votaw said he hopes the Greenfield deal can close this month.

Depending on the season, Varcomm totals between 1,000 and 1,200 subscribers in its three locations, Votaw said. By the October count, Greenfield had 1,639 internet customers in Rancho Murieta, 985 TV subscribers and 283 digital phone subscribers, according to the RMA.

The company has 11 employees, Votaw said, and plans to keep three Greenfield employees now based in Rancho Murieta. The company’s customer service centers, in Ducor and Rancho Tehama, will handle Rancho Murieta initially, he said. After-hours service is handled by NeoNova Network Services, in Raleigh, North Carolina, he said.

“The residents of the community are not going to see a change in personnel; all they’re going to see is a change in the shirt. ... The shirts aren’t going to say Greenfield anymore; they’re going to say Varcomm,” he said.

At present, Varcomm offers traditional phone service and broadband internet, Votaw said, but not satellite TV or digital phone. Despite that, he said, “We will offer the exact same services (in Rancho Murieta) that are offered to the community now. Those will just now be offered by Varcomm.”

Asked whether there should be concern about his company venturing into new technologies, Votaw said, “Well, they’re new for the company, but they’re not new for me or for the (chief financial officer).” He said he and Jennifer Vellucci, the CFO, have “extensive telecommunications backgrounds.”

Votaw said he is the former director of operations for Warwick Valley Telephone in Warwick, New York, and was involved, as an executive in TeleGuam Holdings, in launching TV and high-speed wireless internet in the U.S. territory of Guam.

“I’ve deployed head ends from the technical standpoint and from the marketing standpoint,” he said.

“The anticipation is we will bring your services into our standards,” he said. “And our standards pretty much follow Public Utility Commission standards.” Is that a higher level of service? “In most instances, yes.”

Votaw said the internet speeds offered by Greenfield won't diminish under Varcomm, and the gigabit-speed fiber Greenfield discussed launching this year is still in Varcomm's plans.

The Varcomm website traces the company’s ownership back to 1910, when farmers in southern Tulare County launched a small telephone company with a single phone line. The Roome family purchased the operation in 1938 and owns it still, now under an umbrella company called Varcomm Holdings Inc., including Varnet Inc., which is Varcomm’s internet subsidiary.

Votaw said he’s a minority owner in the company and the first non-family member to be its CEO.

“You will see us become active participants in the community,” he said. In Rancho Tehama, which is a homeowners association, he said Varcomm attends the monthly association meetings. “We listen, and we respond,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of listening, but it’s a matter of being involved in the community too.”

At the RMA board meeting, General Manager Greg Vorster said the board had met with the company and reviewed its financials.

Director Jim Crowder said he was impressed earlier that evening when the board met with Varcomm representatives, including Votaw, particularly with Varcomm's emphasis on customer support. “He’s going to give us, I honestly believe, a higher level of service than what we’ve had in the past with Greenfield,” Crowder said. He added later, “I’m looking forward to someone else taking over our services here.”

When Greenfield arrived in Rancho Murieta in 2014, the company, based in Orange County, had 9,000 subscribers in 10 communities.

Projecting the job would take about a year, Greenfield started installing Rancho Murieta’s fiber network in late 2014 and had problems for months. It blamed the patchy condition of the RMA’s cable network, which served as the pathway for the fiber, and the RMA’s poor maps of the network. In 2016, amidst complaints about installations and rollout delays, the RMA advanced Greenfield $100,000 for the head-end communications center, a payment that wasn’t supposed to happen until the 20-year contract ended or was terminated, and loaned Greenfield $100,000 as well, payable in five years. As part of the deal, the contract was extended to 40 years to give Greenfield time to recoup its construction costs.

That 40-year contract is what Varcomm assumes. Vorster said the loan to Greenfield would be repaid to RMA as part of the transaction.

RMA challenged on fees for sports teams

Randy Jenco, a past RMA director elected last month to the Community Services District board, spoke at the meeting, responding to recent questions about why the RMA doesn’t charge Little League for use of the sports fields.

Jenco, whose company built the community’s pedestrian bridge, said he got involved with Little League 20 years ago. He offered a long list of improvements made to the fields by Little League volunteers, either through labor or by soliciting contributions of building materials.

The contributions were worth $200,000, he said, and professional services that were volunteered probably doubled that value. “I’m no math genius, but I’m pretty sure that with the amount of money that was spent out there, and what RMA got out of it, that you could waive Little League’s fees for another 50 or 60 years and still break even,” he said.

Representatives of the Murieta Bulldogs  – and dozens of supporters – attended the October RMA meeting, asking to use the sports fields to practice, and the November RMA meeting, challenging how much RMA wanted to charge them. A number of Bulldogs supporters were in the audience Tuesday.

Later in the meeting, General Manager Greg Vorster, following up on the Bulldogs’ issue, reported back on the fees being paid annually by soccer, lacrosse and Little League.

For 19 weeks using all fields, excluding baseball field No. 1, Vorster said the Rancho Murieta Soccer Club paid $3,200 in 2016, $3,700 in 2017 and $3,800 in 2018. For 14 weeks of use of one field, Pleasant Grove Lacrosse Club paid $600 in 2016 and 2017 and $650 in 2018, he said. Little League had four baseball fields contracted for 24 weeks, Vorster said, and they paid nothing.

Vorster said he had also been asked whether Summerfest or the Kiwanis were charged for field use for the annual Summerfest carnival or the Easter Egg Hunt. He said they weren’t.

When Director Stephanie Bianchi said the bylaws require the fees to be equitable, Vorster replied, “I guess the question is, what’s equitable?”

Director Jim Crowder responded, “I’ll say it. How can zero be equitable when someone’s paying 3,200 or 3,800 (dollars)?”

Jenco came back to the microphone to clarify an audience question about how much the RMA contributed to the $200,000 in Little League contributions. Jenco said the $200,000 was entirely from Little League, which prompted Crowder to ask, “Being a businessman, I know that if you’re going to be donating time and materials, you should be able to write that off on taxes. Am I correct on that?”

“I probably spent 50,000 (dollars) of my company’s money, and I never – it never occurred to me to write it off,” Jenco said. “I just did it.”

Alex Bauer, board president, said comments in recent months have prompted the board to re-examine its contracts for use of the sports fields. 

Crowder agreed it’s necessary, saying he had examined the fees in light of negotiations with the Bulldogs. The RMA proposed charging the Bulldogs $25 an hour, he said, and his rough math showed soccer is paying $5 an hour, lacrosse pays $1.16 an hour and Little League pays nothing. “Yeah, we do need to make sure that all our fees are fair and equitable to everyone in the community,” he said, drawing applause.

Bianchi asked if the board would allow the Bulldogs to use the fields for practice until the fee issue is settled.  Bauer said the agenda didn't include that item, so the board couldn't act on it. Pointing to a recent incident where one sports team tore up a field by using it when it was wet, and now is paying to repair the field, Vorster said it’s important that the RMA have a contract with any team using the fields, and it doesn’t have one yet with the Bulldogs.

In other business...

  • General Manager Greg Vorster reported that as of Dec. 10, 75 tickets had been sold for Casino Night and four sponsors were signed on, representing about $5,700 in revenue. The break-even point is $6,800 for 100 participants, he said, and the event isn’t until Feb. 23, “so you look like your numbers are looking pretty good.” Director Stephanie Bianchi said there are a number of sponsorships still possible.
  • Director Joanne Brandt said the Communications Committee has been testing the RMA’s new website and is close to launching it. It has many improvements over the current site, she said. The launch date hasn’t been set.
  • The board unanimously appointed Director Joanne Brandt to a residents advisory group reporting to the Joint Security Committee.
  • Director Jim Crowder suggested that the community’s pickleball fans arrange to purchase a portable net to allow them to set up temporary courts, much as the Country Club does now. The idea was sent to the Recreation Committee.

T. Hanson's picture
Joined: 08/07/2007
Posts: 317
Post rating: 474

RMA Cable System Contract Sale

Attn: RMA Communications Committee and BoD. Key question is why the contract sale now to an upstart (video), smaller communications company, particularly after all we have been through with Greenfield?

Joshua Kelly's picture
Joined: 01/28/2017
Posts: 8
Post rating: 1

VARCOMM PRICING!

As spotty and unreliable as Greenfield Internet had been, their prices were atleast manageable. Upon further research on Varcomm's site they offer laughable speeds for ridiculous prices. 6mb download with 1mb upload for $50!? For any home nowadays with multiple devices, smart TV's, laptops, etc. this speed would be utterly useless. Let's hope they can adjust their speeds to fit a 21st century household? 

Tim Hefler's picture
Joined: 01/27/2008
Posts: 7
Post rating: 7

Once again total lack of transparency

This may turn out ok, but it has all the hallmarks of past board actions that have been less than successful. With the problems experienced at Greenfield one would expect the BOD to be a little more careful and transparent. But this has disaster written all over it. I have no good option for internet and am really concerned that this contract is being assumed by total rookies. I think everyone on this board is violating the trust placed in them by approving this sale without a hearing to discuss their decision. 

Tim Hefler

Larry Shelton's picture
Joined: 01/29/2015
Posts: 40
Post rating: 48

Sale of Greenfield

Greenfield sold it's video (TV) and internet operation to Varcomm.  RMA had no control over that sale or the timming.  Our sole responsibility was to make sure the contract with Varcomm was correct and that our interests were protected. Remember, we own most of the hardware and infer-structure, Greenfield and now Varcomm is leasing the equipment from us. And yes, just like with Greenfield, we do not have complete pricing control over all of their services.  Greenfield or now Varcomm is under contract with Dish Network for the Televison signal.

Jerry Pasek's picture
Joined: 12/13/2007
Posts: 135
Post rating: 191

Internet service

I have both RMA (Greenfield/Varcom) and ATT and can switch between the 2 services when having trouble with either.Seems to work fine although RMA's speed appears to be better.

Jerry Pasek

Chris Woods's picture
Joined: 06/15/2016
Posts: 16
Post rating: 12

Greenfield sold?

“No control over the sale” Why did the Board vote then? “Our interests were protected” Is “our interests” the Board or the consumer, because it appears the Board just tripled the cost of my internet? “We own most of the hardware and infra-structure” Why did the Board loan Greenfield $100K for something we already own? “We do not have complete pricing control” Actually, the Board has complete pricing control. Without competition, the new provider can set any price they want. That is total price control and bad for the consumer. 

C L Woods

Tim Hefler's picture
Joined: 01/27/2008
Posts: 7
Post rating: 7

Confusing comment by Director Shelton

i agree with this comment. Mr. Sheltons comment that the board has no control over the transfer orf the contract seems at odds with what went on at the BOD meeting. Why would they meet with the President of the purchasing entity and the approve the transfer if they have no control?  

I would also like to respond to Mr Pasecks comment that we can just subscribe to two internet services to make sure we have the service that we are actually paying Greenfield for. He may not be aware that many people in Rancho Murieta are not able to get anything but very slow service from AT&T as we are too far from the switch. So we cannot simply pay for two services to make sure we have internet service at all times. 

Tim Hefler

Joanne Brandt's picture
Joined: 06/12/2014
Posts: 33
Post rating: 43

Greenfield Contract

What Larry was referring to when he said "we had no control" is in the Greenfield contract there is a clause that states Greenfield can assign the contract at any time to a qualified vendor. Greenfield brought a qualified vendor to RMA. Varcomm, the vendor, will bring improvements to our services. Greenfield purchased from DISH and resold to us. Varcomm is directly afflilated with DISH. Being directly afflilated with DISH, Varcomm should be able to provide better channel lineups. The Internet will be located in the cloud so you will be able to send emails to an unlimited number of email addresses. Currently, the number is restricted to 25. Varcomm kept all the Greenfield employees who worked in Rancho Murieta so they will be familiar with the community. Also there will be electronic billing. Varcomm is excited about joining our community and expanding their customer base.

Joanne Brandt

Chris Woods's picture
Joined: 06/15/2016
Posts: 16
Post rating: 12

Qualified Vendor?

What constitutes a “qualified vendor”? In one sentence the officer states “ will bring improvements”, then she states “should bring improvements” Which is it?  “Email is located in the cloud”? “Restricted to 25”? I’m not sure anyone on the Board has a grasp of the current state of Greenfield or Varcomm. What leverage do we have concerning the $100K loan? Is the Greenfield switch fully operational? There are reports of a problem delivering HD tv and slow speeds at peak times. Can the Board guarantee better service and lower prices?

C L Woods

Joanne Brandt's picture
Joined: 06/12/2014
Posts: 33
Post rating: 43

Email moving to the cloud

To correct my earlier post:

It is our email that is being moved to the cloud which allows for the more advanced email capacity.

The Internet stays in the same place.

Joanne Brandt

Larry Shelton's picture
Joined: 01/29/2015
Posts: 40
Post rating: 48

Greenfield Loan

Greenfield had already paid down a significate portion of the $100k loan.  The remainder was paid off at the transfer to Varcomm.

David Gransee's picture
Joined: 05/04/2016
Posts: 3
Post rating: 0

Email

I am hoping that the new provider will use a better email system.  Mail Enable is terrible!  A very poor spam system and very unfriendly user interface.

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