RACINE — Adding yet another twist to the debate over the future of CAR25, an alderman is proposing that the cable access channel be eliminated and the money used to fund it put into the city’s contingency fund.
Alderman Greg Helding, who asked that the proposal be referred to the City Council’s Finance Committee for further discussion, said he is bringing the idea forward because the city is facing difficult budget straits and the money used to run CAR25 — roughly $106,000 in 2012 — could be used to stave off making future cuts to services.
“This (money) represents at least one if not two positions,” Helding said, adding that aldermen are “kidding themselves” if they think they are going to get out from behind the cost of the union lawsuit loss or looming cuts from the state.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted 13-1 to refer Helding’s proposal to the Finance Committee, with almost no discussion. The proposal will be added to the Finance Committee’s next agenda for consideration and possible recommendation back to the City Council. Alderman Krystyna Sarrazin voted against referring the item.
Controversy has encircled CAR25 in recent weeks as those who run the station — city employees and volunteer producers — have clashed with members of the city administration who are working to find an outside contractor to come in and run the channel.
Aldermen and some members of the Cable Television Commission also have raised concerns over the proposal to outsource operations at the channel as well as the process used to search for a contractor.
The money used to fund CAR25 comes from the cable franchise fees the city collects every year from Time Warner and AT&T. The city received a total of $780,000 in franchise fees from the companies last year. Of that money, $82,000 went to fund CAR25. The rest went into the city’s general fund.
While the cable companies provide the communities they are in with cable access channels, municipalities are not required to use or fund them, City Administrator Tom Friedel said. He added that the city didn’t have a cable access channel before 2004.
“(The amount of money) that comes in (from AT&T and Time Warner) ebbs and flows based on the number of customers that live in the city,” Friedel said. “Those funds come in and we can do with them whatever we want.”
While aldermen have the power to eliminate funding for CAR25, several residents speaking during the meeting’s public comment period asked aldermen to keep the channel around, calling it a valuable resource.
“CAR25 is much more important than the park benches the city is putting around town,” Sue DeKeuster said.
Cable Television Commission Chairman Ron Thomas is another person who would like to see the channel protected.
“I think Alderman Helding underestimates the value of what CAR25 brings to the community,” Thomas said Monday.
Mayor John Dickert said Monday that he understands if aldermen ultimately vote to eliminate funding for CAR25, noting that with financial pressures the city is facing they are going to be looking at having to make tough cuts. He added, however, that his “goal from day one” with the channel “has been to create a great product.”
“I think we can do that with a new group,” he said.
Aldermen also approved a communication from aldermen Mike Shields, Sandy Weidner and Keith Fair requesting a Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the future of CAR25.
Council President Jim Kaplan — the chairman of the Committee of the Whole — has said he is not sure when he will call a meeting of the committee.
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