By Mai Ling Slaughter
Tuesday evening. Centralia’s City Council authorized its “last and final payment for 1999” to CCTV of $4.500. Although CCTV board members had assured the council they would not request money from the city after May, Treasurer Carol Bezy requested a portion of the money budgeted for CCTV this year.
The city’s budget for this year forecasts cable revenues from TCI Cablevision $105,000 (5 percent of TCI’s gross revenue; from customers in the city’s cable franchise area) and allocated $30,000 to CCTV. A payment of $7,500 was made on that this February.
CCTV got a payment from the city from TCI revenues of $30,000 in 1996 and $30,(100 again in 1997. CCTV contends, based on TCI payments to the city, those payments are much less than what the city agreed to in the contract Note that local public access stations elsewhere are surviving on this amount of support and even much less, albeit supplemented by an abundance of private donations and sponsorships. Reber said Fairmont, Minn.. where he was city administrator, operates on an annual budget of $7,500.
The bottom line is that although we certainly agree it is important to provide the public with as much access to local government goings-on as possible and an outlet for their own views, public access TV isn’t a necessity. Those in the community who believe it is should volunteer the donations and sponsorships to support it, rather that depending on financially strapped local government. The door is open to them. There are plenty of other ways for the public to keep track of what their local governments are up to, including media coverage and personal attendance at meetings. Local newspapers’ letters columns and radio stations’ callin shows also provide an excellent forum for people to express their views and debate the issues. Beyond that, other forms of communication include advertisements, billboards (check out the Hamilton sign south of Chehalis), newsletters, even signboards on trucks around town.
When finances enable local governments to meet public service priorities, public access television should get consideration, but not when times are tough, as now with Centralia.
In addition to the city’s budget shortfall, city officials are on strong ground in balling at additional payments to CCTV when the station is not receiving support from other local governments. Interestingly, Chehalis, for example, is apparently willing to help CCTV with its franchise fees, but has received very little, if any, citizen demand for local access TV. The board’s Lee Coumbs said the attitude that Centralia stops at such limits is “unhealthy. This community is bigger than the boundaries of Centralia.” “If you want it to be countywide, you’re talking to the wrong people,” Reber responded. “This isn’t a free lunch. You have to belly up to the bar if you want the benefits.”
Reber showed the board a videotape of public access station operations in Fairmont, Minn., where Reber once worked as city administrator. He said Fairmont’s city-run public access station operates on an annual budget of $7,500. “What does the city plan to do?” board member Tim Adolphsen asked pointedly.
Reber said the city is not setting a direction for the station – except on operating costs.
Coumbs said the city and the station are both motivated to negotiate a resolution to avoid costly. drawn-out litigation. But the city appears to have the advantage because the station cannot continue to operate much longer without cash.
Coumbs was named the board’s designated spokesman in negotiations with the city. However, the entire board must approve any final settlement agreement.