GREENFIELD — Greenfield’s community TV channel is in jeopardy, with city and school officials unsure how it’s going to be paid for in 2013.
The Greenfield City Council decided to terminate the city’s broadcasting contract with Greenfield-Central schools. The contract, which sent more than $100,000 every year to the school, puts funding and programming in a state of limbo.
While city officials hope something can be worked out to continue programming, school administrators wonder how the G-CHS broadcasting program can survive with such a drastic funding cut.
At issue is franchise fees, which is money cable subscribers pay every month with their cable bill. The franchise fees go to city government, and the city for years had been sending most of the money to the school. But now, city officials want to keep the funds to pay for other technology needs at city hall.
GCTV, which can be seen on Channel 19 for Comcast subscribers and Channel 160 for NineStar Connect customers, airs city council and board meetings for the public. GCTV also airs community announcements and sporting events on the TV channel.
G-C’s 24-hour radio station, WRGF-FM (89.7) also is funded with franchise fees and would be an even bigger casualty of the cuts: The station, whose signal is strong enough to be picked up throughout the county and beyond, has more live programming than GCTV and can reach many more people.
“It just becomes part of the school and community culture, and it’s going to take a major hit,” G-CHS Principal Steve Bryant said of the school’s broadcasting program. “I’m disappointed if there’s going to be any cuts, because cuts will mean cuts in programming.”
Bryant said the city and school have had an agreement for nearly 20 years.
The city receives more than $150,000 a year from cable franchise fees. The city pays the school roughly $100,000 every year to record and air meetings from city hall. Cameras are installed in the council chambers.
The school also uses the funds for the salaries of two teachers and equipment for the G-CHS broadcasting program.
Mayor Dick Pasco said he’d like the programming to continue somehow, but the city’s technology department budget is also strapped. The information technology budget seems to be growing annually, and franchise fees may be spent on anything related to technology.
“I think it’s a great service; I love the program,” Pasco said. “But if you look at the value for the dollars spent on the city side, it wasn’t a very good deal for us.”
So far, city and school officials haven’t met to discuss what will happen next.
The council decided at a budget workshop in August to terminate the contract. Pasco and council President Mitch Pendlum informed the school with a letter in late August, and Pasco said he’d like to meet with G-C Superintendent Linda Gellert to see whether programming can somehow continue.
Pasco hopes city council meetings can still be recorded and aired on TV, but he told the council late last month that there’s a possibility the meetings won’t be recorded starting Jan. 1.
“The channel is owned by the city of Greenfield. It’s ours,” Pasco said. “I don’t know; I’m not anxious to jerk anything out from underneath them.”
The city’s three technology employees could film the council meeting themselves, Pasco said, but he hopes the school can pay for its staff to not only continue its work at city hall, but also all of the programs at the school.
But Gellert said while she understands the city may be in a pinch for money, the school also is tight on revenue.
She said nothing will happen to the broadcasting program this school year, but she will have to meet with Pasco and others about where to go from here.
“I’m very open to discussion,” she said. “I’d like to better understand what their revenue stream is for this purpose. Maybe there is a middle ground.”
The city’s broadcasting program has grown to be “a diamond in the rough,” Bryant said, and something G-CHS staff is proud of.
School announcements are filmed and aired, along with sporting events ranging from girls volleyball to varsity football. Community members are also sometimes interviewed on Channel 19, to let residents know about upcoming events.
Students hone skills ranging from writing to interviewing people. Bryant said several students have gone on to college to major in broadcasting, and some come back during the summer for internships.
“It’s a very integral part of the school as far as public relations and communication,” Bryant said.
But when city council members were looking over Greenfield’s technology budget for 2013, they saw more expenses than they had the money for.
The technology budget is also partially funded with franchise fees, but Pasco says if the city no longer sends fees to the school, money will be available to pay for more technology at city hall in the future.
The equipment budget line alone for the city increased by $15,000 next year because the city needs to purchase new servers. Pasco said expenses like those seem to keep piling up for the city.
Terminating the contract with G-CHS was a hard decision to make, Councilman John Patton said, but he hopes the school will be able to bridge the gap to keep programs going.
“I don’t think the programming is in jeopardy. It’s a matter of who provides it,” Patton said. “If we’re in an era where money is growing on trees, we’d certainly keep it up. But we have to make some tough decisions, and that happened to be one of them in this budget cycle.”
Still, other nongovernment groups groups received funds from the city this year, including Greenfield Main Street, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hancock County and Hancock County Senior Services.
The city’s budget was also healthy enough to promise raises for city employees next year. The Greenfield-Central School Board, on the other hand, is not giving raises to teachers.
But Patton points out that technology is one area in city government that is always changing and growing. The information technology department oversees not only numerous office computers and the city’s website, but also the technology for the city’s electric, water and sewer departments.
This isn’t the first time funding for Channel 19 has come up. Last year, the city re-negotiated a contract with G-C after concerns that costs were escalating.
For years, the city had been chipping in 75 percent of franchise fees to the school. But with population growth, that 75 percent was becoming a greater dollar figure every year. In 2009, the city spent $107,600 on the program, and in 2010, that figure increased to $116,751.
The broadcasting contract was re-negotiated so the city paid $100,000 in 2011, and the figure was set to increase by 4 percent for the next three years. This year, the city spent $104,000 on the contract, and next year, the city was supposed to pay $109,200.
Councilman Jason Horning was the sole member who voted against terminating the contract with the school.
“My big thing was, I didn’t want to take that program away from the school,” Horning said.
He also said the decision was a quick one made without fully exploring how it would affect not only students, but also residents who enjoy watching public meetings on TV.
“If the school continues to (record meetings) even without the funding, there wasn’t any definite plan in how our city was going to get the meetings televised for people to watch,” he said. “I just felt like it was kind of a quick decision.”
But Patton says something can be worked out where the school can continue programming. If the school wants to air a football game, for example, it could be done with a corporate sponsorship or donations.
“I would like to see the program at the high school continued, and I would be happy to work individually with them to find ways for alternate funding,” Patton said. “That’s a program I’d like to see continue, and I wish we had had the ability to continue to fund it.”