Blake Lackey, a Certified Public Accountant with the Longview firm of Curtis Blakely and Co., said Gilmer-based Etex lost money from shutting down its wireless operation, but does “have income from operations” and is showing “positive signs.”
When a man in the audience asked “Are we doing okay?,” Lackey replied “You’re doing okay. . . I think 2014’s going to be better.” He said General Manager Charlie Cano, who assumed his office only last November, was taking some steps to improve the situation.
Also at the annual meeting, held at the Gilmer Civic Center, District 1 board member David McQueen and District 7 board member Phillip Stepherson were reelected without opposition to the cooperative’s Board of Directors. Holdover members include John McWhorter, Cody Darby, Bobby Jenkins, Henry Troell, Lewis Fluellen, Lindley Hagler and Gaston (Bubba) DeBerry.
The financial report showed the cooperative’s expenses at $31,191,854 and its revenues at $30,391,366 for 2013, including a $2,880,447 loss from discontinued operations.
As of Dec. 1, the firm also has $67,817,690 in assets, and an equal amount in total liabilities and equity, the report showed. Lackey noted the total “current assets” comprised nearly $8.2 million of the total assets, and that total “current liabilities” are about $5.4 million after the co-op “reduced the debt substantially” this past year.
Federally-required rate increases offset some of the cooperative’s losses, the CPA said.
Cano later told the assemblage that “We had to shut down our wireless service,” but that revenue from it had helped finance infrastructure and cable TV. Thus, “We lost millions of dollars in having to shut (it) down” and “We’re having to scale back in where we expand” on video service. (Etex offers telephone, Internet and video services.)
“We’re not blessed with the wireless revenue that was subsidizing our growth,” Cano explained. “We continue to expand and grow, but in a lot more measured manner.”
However, the wireless service “was a very good investment that lived its life,” and the approximately 120-employee cooperative is considering resuming such service in a partnership, he said. And this year’s financial numbers didn’t “look as bad” as they did last year, Cano said.
During the business session, Etex attorney Don Richards said the cooperative, which serves numerous East Texas counties, now has 9,986 actual members. He also said the Federal Communications Commission and state Public Utilities Commission “forced a lot of changes on us over the past year,” and that the FCC will force a rate hike.
He urged those present to tell politicians to “support our rural telephone company,” and said proposed legislation is being written aimed at stabilizing financial issues for phone cooperatives’ broadband service.
Hagler, giving the co-op’s President’s report, said Etex can’t do some things it would like to do because of FCC and PUC regulations. He said 60 percent of the firm’s revenue “comes from these governing powers’ decisions.”
He said the co-op’s goal is reaching East Texans with “little or no options for high-speed Internet,” and that Etex wanted to provide services “generally available only in urban areas.”
Also at the meeting, Gilmer High School student Catherine Williams was presented a $500 scholarship for winning the cooperative’s new essay contest, the theme of which was “Rural Is Cool,” and Lula Mae Beavers, widow of 14-year Etex President Elwin Beavers, was presented items honoring his 28 years of service to the firm.