February 6, 2003
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Budget cuts mean channel 13 must turn to volunteers

In an economizing time for the nation, the State and the Village of Yellow Springs, funding for programs that could be considered nonessential is diminishing.

A tight budget has led the Village to eliminate the paid volunteer-coordinator position for the local public access station, channel 13.

Cutting channel 13’s paid position was originally recommended in December by Village manager Rob Hillard.

“The elimination of the contract position from the budget is a function of the budget procedure with reduced revenue being projected and capital needs being better understood,” Hillard said in an interview Monday. “It’s a prudent move that makes sense in terms of the long-term health of the Village.”

The move means that local videographer Patti Dallas, who was hired in 2000 as the station’s part-time volunteer coordinator, will be out of a job.

The Village receives an average annual franchise fee of $25,000 from Time Warner cable for allowing the company to use local electric lines for cable access. The money from the franchise fee goes into the Village’s general fund. In the past few years the Village has used the franchise fee to build a capital fund for channel 13, to fund the station’s regular operations and to pay Dallas’s salary, which last year was nearly $11,800.

Last year, to balance the Village budget and enhance funding for capital projects, Hillard said, the Village eliminated the procedure of adding to the cable capital fund, but maintained the part-time coordinator and regular station operations.

This year, Hillard recommended that the Village keep the station going but eliminate the volunteer-coordinator position. Channel 13’s budget is project to decrease to $5,000 in 2003 from $15,000 in 2002.

The Village has planned other budget cuts this year, including eliminating the paid coordinator for the Village Mediation Program and not adding additional funding to the Village green space fund. The Village has several capital projects waiting to be completed, and funds for general public works maintenance are low, Hillard said.

“It’s about reinvesting in the community in terms of roads, equipment, police cars,” Hillard said. “[The station’s] needs should be compared with capital needs.”

At its meeting Monday, Village Council approved the first reading of the 2003 Village budget. A second reading and public hearing for the budget will take place at Council’s next meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 18, when Council is expected to approve the budget.

The Village Cable Advisory Panel has said that the station does not need a paid staff member and that volunteers should run the channel.

Elsie Hevelin, the panel’s chairwoman, said that channel 13 survived for years solely on volunteer participation and should continue to do so. She also said that the function of a public station would be better served by not having a coordinator who is paid by the Village.

“An access channel for the people, not the government, should not be influenced by the Village,” she said.

Dallas has said that she thinks channel 13 cannot be run by volunteers alone and that the Village needs to pay someone to manage the station.

Panel member Jim Rose deferred to Hillard’s judgment about the ability of the Village to accommodate a paid position.

“I believe Rob Hillard is a believable, honest person and his opinion is something we can trust,” Rose said, adding, “I think the board and the village owe a great deal of gratitude to Patti; she did a great deal of work in promoting the station.”

Dallas learned much of her videography and editing skills volunteering for channel 13 with local resident Ken Tregillus, who served as the station’s volunteer manager for about 14 years. But by the late ’90s volunteers at the 15-year-old station were scarce. And Tregillus, who was doing what he could to keep operations running, needed to cut back his time at the station. Then the Village hired Dallas to recruit volunteers.

“Patti was effectively the station manager and did all the work,” Tregillus said. “She worked very diligently to find volunteers, did a lot of taping herself and really kept the channel lively.”

At the station Dallas juggled a lot of different activities, she said. She solicited and trained volunteers, maintained equipment, managed the community bulletin board, planned programming and taped many local events and meetings when volunteers could not do it.

Dallas also created programs about community issues and profiled local residents. During 2000 she added 33 new programs, such as “A Musical Tribute to Mary Schumacher,” “Does Higher Education Have a Future?” and “Japanese Aesthetics,” all of which she produced and edited. She also arranged to tape and air programs not previously on the channel, such as AACW Blues Fest workshops, community meetings and school performances and interviews.

With the help of seven or eight active volunteers, Dallas spent an average of 20 hours a week recording the life and times of Yellow Springs.

Faith Patterson, president of AACW, said that Dallas did a good job of including AACW in station programming. “We all know there was never any such monster as a half day,” she said. “Patti does a half day, but she does so much more than that.”

But the question remains: can a village of this size afford to pay someone to create local programming?

Former Village Manager Kent Bristol, who is now the executive director of the Miami Valley Cable Community Council, which oversees four local access channels with eight primary member communities and 20 affiliates, said he is doubtful that Yellow Springs can manage to pay to staff a local access station.

“Yellow Springs for its size was donating quite a bit of resources for programming,” Bristol said. “It was a good effort, but I don’t know that it ever lived up to its promise.”

Most communities in the area with populations under 40,000 do not have paid staff members running their public access channels, Bristol said. Municipalities around the country are making similar budget cuts in public access programming, he added.

Bristol said that Yellow Springs has ample media outlets for communication and disseminating information. “Getting information out in Yellow Springs has never been a problem, so if it’s a choice between public safety and information, I think public safety has to be the priority,” he said.

In a presentation given by the cable panel at Council’s meeting Monday, Robert Walker, the unpaid station manager of channel 13, said that the station has 19 volunteers, seven of whom are new.

If channel 13 is to depend solely on volunteers from now on, Tregillus said that he is not hopeful. Walker is only peripherally involved, Tregillus said. Antioch College student Shiori Morita has been volunteering at the station since 1999 as a Bonner Scholar and as a co-op student. She was working for the station four to five hours a day some weeks this past fall and never once worked with Walker, she said.

Walker, who is also a member of the cable panel, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Panel member Paul Abendroth said that the panel has spent the past year defining the role of the station manager more clearly.

“The role [of station manager] is evolving, and [Walker] is working with the rest of the panel,” Abendroth said.

He said that panel members were working to better define all the roles for potential volunteers at the station so that newcomers can step in and fill the channel’s needs more easily.

Some of the panel members are already covering responsibilities temporarily until more volunteers can be found. Hevelin said last month that panel members and volunteers will make sure programs are available for broadcast.

Abendroth said that he would like to see more local meeting coverage for bodies such as the Miami Township trustees and Village Planning Commission.

But Tregillus also complained about the panel, saying members had done very little to help or to recruit other volunteers.

“Patti has been very misused by the panel,” he said, referring to reports the panel requested from Dallas that were never used. Dallas did “a lot of work” to get a $3,500 grant from channel 21, a Columbus public access station, when it dissolved, but “she got no recognition from the panel,” Tregillus said.

Abendroth said he did not want to comment on this issue.

Tregillus has had a long history at the station, and said that he will continue to volunteer when he can. But he will not return to the station on a regular basis to keep things running as before.

“I will hope for the best, but I’m not counting on it at the moment,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the station just reran old tapes and maintained the bulletin board.”

Tregillus was headed to the station Tuesday morning to play the previous night’s Council meeting on channel 13.

“I’m going to pick up last night’s tape and run it . . . possibly until the end of time,” he said.


—Lauren Heaton