RACINE — Funding for new BelleTV/CAR25 equipment and staff to run the public access channel has been approved; now the question is when the station will be up and running.
The City Council on Tuesday approved up to $115,691.29 to get the channel back up and running. The proposal that went before the Finance and Personnel Committee on Jan. 13 was for up to $146,000, but the committee decided to reduce it by $29,975 by deferring the purchase of new security cameras for the City Council Chambers.
The proposed $146,000 was reallocated from the city’s contingency fund and budget items including additional police body camera data storage, switch replacements for the IT Department and wireless access points for community centers.
City Administrator Jim Palenick said that the $29,975 for cameras for the council chambers was reallocated back into police body camera data storage. As of press time, the city did not have a clear timeline for when the channel will be back on the air.
When the city signed a 23-year agreement in 1996 with Tele-Communications Inc. (which was bought out by AT&T in 1998), it prompted discussions about running a public access channel in Racine. At that time, many communities in southeastern Wisconsin had public access channels with studios where residents could produce original programming.
The idea was studied and debated for years until the council decided to set aside $40,000 in the 2003 budget to start the channel. That fall, Cable Access Racine 25, or CAR25, was launched.
In addition to public meetings, CAR25 aired original programming from the Racine Public Library, the Racine Rotary Post Prom and the Fourth of July Parade. It televised memorials to 9/11 and the Laurel Clark memorial service after her death on the Space Shuttle Columbia in February 2003.
Originally, the city decided to set aside 10% of franchise fees to fund the channel. It had a studio and one to two employees who helped run it. Former Mayor John Dickert pushed to have an outside firm run the channel, which lasted for about a year, and then those positions were cut.
Since then the channel has been run by the city’s IT department. The franchise fees, which for 2020 are estimated to be about $830,000, are lumped in with the city’s general operations budget.
When BelleTV/CAR25 first went dark in early December, the estimated cost for replacement equipment alone was $30,000, which is the amount 6th District Alderman Sandy Weidner had included in her request to get the channel up and running again.
That request went before the Committee of the Whole, a subcommittee of the full City Council, which after a long discussion decided to send it to the Finance and Personnel Committee. The decision granted city staff more time to find answers to questions raised by aldermen and put together a proposal that addressed concerns about the channel’s longevity.
Several members of the public and aldermen spoke at the Committee of the Whole and Finance and Personnel meetings about the importance of BelleTV/CAR25 for the public to access City Council meetings and a hope that with the new system — and staff to operate it — it could not only be restored but renew its previous levels of local programming.
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