Columbia Access Television responds to proposal to end city funding

Thursday, August 1, 2013 | 6:11 p.m. CDT; updated 9:34 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 1, 2013

COLUMBIA — As a contract between Columbia Access Television and the city approaches an end, the broadcasting network might have to make do without city funds.

Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes' proposed budget for FY 2014 would end funding for Columbia Access Television, leaving the organization scrambling to pay its bills and sustain its operations. 

Columbia Access Television, or CAT, which operates the city's public access television channel, is an independent nonprofit that allows members of the community access to equipment and the training necessary to make their own television programs.

The proposed funding cut creates uncertainty for CAT's future, the nonprofit's executive director Jennifer Erickson said.

"Like anything else in the city, we were expecting to have some cuts," she said. "We weren't expecting to go to zero."

Of its current $240,000 budget, CAT receives $200,000 from the city as the result of a contract, Erickson said.

In an informational meeting on Tuesday, the CAT board of directors addressed the proposed budget changes. The board thinks the organization is in a good place to handle any funding scenario, Erickson said.

Erickson said CAT has seen increased income from grants and earned income during the last two years and is on track to become financially self-sustaining in the near future.

For now, CAT plans to continue efforts to become more self-sufficient, Erickson said. If city funding is cut, however, changes such as increasing membership dues might be made to compensate for lost funding.

"Right now (a membership) is so affordable, but I can't say those rates will remain without funding from the city," Erickson said.

Annual memberships to CAT — which costs $25 for a student and $75 for a family or organization — come with access to equipment and facilities, one training class, the ability to broadcast programs and access to CAT's network of volunteers.

Erickson said CAT members and partners will try to make a case to the Columbia City Council and broader community about CAT's civic value.

Columbia Access Television's primary value is providing an opportunity for hands-on learning, she said. The center also gets young people involved in the community, subsequently decreasing the potential for youth violence.

"I think we have a good chance of at least making people understand our value," she said. "We are making sure the City Council knows we are more than just a public broadcast network."

CAT program director Sean Brown said that though public access television broadcasts amateur work alongside its professional programming, it should not be dismissed. The learning and improvement that takes place during programming allows even amateur community members to learn about television and share their voices.

"Maybe it's not all the best quality," he said. "But what happens during the shoot is invaluable."

The council will hold multiple public hearings on the budget in August and is scheduled to take a final vote on the budget at its Sept. 16 meeting.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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