Houlton gets advanced AV system for town meetings

HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton Town Council decided last year to replace a dated audiovisual system to accommodate remote meeting participants. 

And on March 15, the new equipment will be installed, according to the Houlton town manager.

“People will be able to participate in the meetings (via Zoom),” Marian Anderson said. “The government should be accessible and transparent.” 

During the pandemic, the town council began broadcasting monthly town meetings via Zoom and even when health officials gave the OK to return to in-person meetings, the town council continued the online offering. 

But old and cobbled-together audio and video equipment made it hard for remote attendees  to hear or see. And during meetings last summer, several councilors said complaints about the Zoom meetings were increasing.  

“People have complained that there are a lot of distractions, talking, rattling papers,” Counselor Susan Tortello said. “It’s important we hear from our users … As a user myself when coming in from home, it’s hard to hear and there is a lot of static.”

After months of exploring various options, the town council in February approved $11,763 for the purchase of a system from Brewer-based SJ Rollins Technologies. The new system includes microphone pods for town councilors, in-person speakers and Zoom participants, an ONLOGIC NUC computer system, a Samsung 65-inch display and supporting equipment.

“This is an upgrade to the current system. We will have array microphones, a 65-inch TV so everyone can see,” Counselor Mark Horvath said during the February meeting. 

Horvath took on the project last year. Because of his efforts, the town now has this system, Anderson said. 

The funds for the system came from American Rescue Plan Act. This federal Coronavirus relief plan helps local communities improve conditions for residents including accessibility improvements.   

The equipment will be used for all town meetings, including planning board and board of appeals. 

“The nice thing too is that people on Zoom can participate,” Anderson said. “Now their voices can be heard.”