SALISBURY – Facing funding cuts, the city’s own government cable channel came before the Salisbury City Council this week to report what the reduction would mean for the current services it provides.
At the conclusion of Monday night’s City Council legislative session, Michael Scott, a professor at Salisbury University, vice chair of PAC 14 Board of Directors and chair of the PAC 14 Development Committee, and Creig Twilley, executive director of PAC 14, addressed the council in regards of the channel’s city funding being cut in this fiscal year’s budget.
According to PAC 14’s website, the cable franchise opened in November of 1998 as “Access 26” and aired its first program on March 15, 1999. In 2010, PAC 14 was incorporated as PAC 14 Inc., a 501c3 organization. The City of Salisbury, Wicomico County and Salisbury University provide funding or valuable in-kind services which allow PAC 14 Inc. to continue to operate and meet a mission of providing local community oriented television programming. PAC 14 broadcasts governmental sessions and governmental education programs.
“PAC 14 … is the only public access television station operating on Maryland’s lower eastern shore providing public educational governmental programming to the citizens of the city of Salisbury and beyond,” Scott said.
He explained that the organization has 1,134 members who consider the channel to be an important part of their lives and dozens of community organizations and churches are on PAC 14 as a medium to spread their community center messages.
Scott said that the proposed 17-percent reduction in the city’s allocation to the cable TV franchise fee would be detrimental to the operation of PAC 14. The cut would negatively impact the ability to provide the channel’s services to the citizens of the city as they have come to expect over the last decade.
“I understand the Mayor and City Council have a tough job to do balancing ever increasing demands with what seems like ever declining resources,” Scott said. “However, we would respectively ask the council to reconsider the decision to reduce the PAC 14 funding allocation on the road to that allocation of resources. Instead, we ask the council to leave the allocation the same as the mayor requested which represents a flat budget from FY2011.”
Mayor Jim Ireton proposed to allocate $330,000 to the cable TV franchise fee in the city’s fiscal year 2012 budget, which was also 2011’s original prosed allocation as well.
Scott explained to the council that recently PAC 14 underwent a transformation to a non-profit organization. One of the reasons in doing so is because the financial support from the city, county and university would not meet the channel’s outreach goals in the long term. Recently, the channel has begun it fundraising planning but now thinks the budget cut from the city will put its fundraising into jeopardy.
“Not only will it reduce the labor that can respond to the response and demands but identify donors to rightfully ask themselves if their donations will be wasted on an organization without the support of its prime constituents,” Scott said.
Prior to the proposed funding cut, PAC 14 had already estimated $35,000 needed to be raised to break even in 2012. Scott said the city’s cut would increase that amount by 50 percent. He added that PAC 14 has already cut its unnecessary expenses in the past as costs increased and budgets remained flat.
“Today 87.5 percent or more of PAC 14’s budget goes towards personnel,” Scott said. “A reduction in personnel will necessarily mean a cut to the services the station provides to the citizens of Salisbury.”
Scott also asserted that PAC 14 is funded by 1.5 percent of the 5 percent of the cable TV franchise fee of the city’s budget. That percentage is established through ordinance and the law would have to be changed in order to cut that percentage.
“The outcome of an effort to change the ordinance and reduce the percentage of franchise fee to PAC 14 receives is not at all certain,” Scott said. “It would seem to me that any changes to budget allocation should wait upon the outcome of any legislative action. I really believe in Pac 14, I have believed in it for 12 years. I speak on behalf of the staff and the community when I say that Pac 14 I believe from what I hear all the time is good for this community.”
Twilley simply asked the council to keep the 1.5 percent of PAC 14’s funding to remain in the budget. He added that there are changes approaching, including contracts with the cable provider but the PAC 14 development committee is working to provide more funding for the channel.
He added that he is not sure of the county’s allocation at this point but if their funding remains to be the same and the city cut their budget there will still not be enough funding to even cover the channels salaries.
“Something would have to give,” Twilley said. “The staff would have to become more involved in fundraising and some services would have to be cut somewhere or somehow.”