Facing elimination from Tampa budget, public access TV pleads its case
When Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn last month unveiled a city budget that would raise property taxes to address two debts from the 1990s, he told City Council members that the city proposed to eliminate subsidies for a couple of nonprofit organizations, and that City Hall was sure to hear from them.
“We are asking our not-for-profit partners, some of whom have lived off the city dole, to take a haircut as well this year,” he said on July 20. “There are two or three that don't serve a critical need for us that we will in a longer be subsidizing. I am certain you will hear from some. But I would ask you that you ask them to recognize our reality and be sympathetic to that and not just continue to come to the government so that they can survive.”
Outside the meeting, Buckhorn said the budget would “zero out” city support for the Tampa Bay Community Network, often known as public access, which last year received $207,360, and the Tampa Bay Arts & Education Network, which received $108,629.
“We have our own TV station,” he said. “We really don’t need to be subsidizing that.”
That same day, the mayor had a message from Louise Thompson, the executive director the Tampa Bay Community Network, who argues that public access not only produces unique programming, but does a lot of job and skills training.
What followed are these two emails:
On July 21, Buckhorn wrote:
I am in receipt of your message and am familiar with the challenges that you faced especially since they are the same challenges that you faced 6 years ago when we had the very same conversation. At the time I expressed the same sentiments to you that I will express today and if I recall I also suggested to you that your organization needed to wean itself of public funding given the more pressing needs that local government has moving forward.
Today’s announcement cannot be a surprise because we notified you early this year that we were facing a very difficult budget and to expect a significant reduction or outright elimination of assistance from the City. In that same letter we suggested that you build your budget this year without anticipation of City support.
If you had the chance to see the presentation today you would recognize that the City faces some very difficult decisions. The mere fact that we are asking Council to consider an increase to the millage rate, the first in 29 years, should tell you that moving forward we are focused on those things that are mission critical to us and that provide a direct and positive impact to the citizens that we serve.
It is enough that we have our own television station that we are funding, focused on issues and programs that further our goals. There is no need to fund two others.
I certainly am familiar with the work that your organization does and it is not without its value to some in the community. As the County did a number of years ago, At this point we are choosing to go in a different direction. We have supported your organization long after others chose not to, however given the reality we are facing we must concentrate on our core functions.
On July 27, Thompson responded:
Thank you for responding so quickly to my call. I do appreciate it.
Yes, the challenge is the same — it's all about funding. As I indicated previously, the public's cable access TV channel should not be "weaned" off government support. It ought to be sustained with equal funding as is the government's cable access TV channel. The City receives about $18 million in revenue from the Communications Services Tax, which replaced franchise fees and which, in large part, comes from the cable companies. This is the revenue stream that ought to be used to fund all three PEG channels. According to your budget, CTTV is spending more than $700,000 on salaries alone — while the City is only funding TBCN for $207,360. This meager amount of funding speaks to the importance [or lack of importance] the City has placed on the people’s channel.
That aside, your email suggests you are not at all caught up on what Speak Up/TBCN has been doing in recent years, where the City money is being spent and who are our partners.
I hope you will take the time to read this email and, then, become convinced to reinstate us into the FY 2018 budget.
First off, it’s the City of Tampa —along with other — funding that has allowed us to provide professional video production training for the unemployed and underemployed —with special emphasis on minorities, veterans, women and at-risk youth.
Since January 2017, with a Workforce Training grant from Hillsborough County — and the City’s funding — 175 people have signed up for 703 classes in videography, location production, graphics, lighting, technical directing, social media, monetizing with YouTube, podcasting and Internet video marketing, among other subjects.
We are currently receiving some of our funding from the Economic Prosperity Center [a CDC of Tampa initiative funded by the United Way], Hillsborough County [Workforce Training], Tampa Housing Authority [to train Robles Park residents], the University Area CDC [to train at-risk youngsters attending summer camp at Roy Haynes & Egypt Lake recreational centers] and Success4Kids & Families. We have received funding from the County’s EDI2 Department to highlight tech entrepreneurs and from a County contribution to Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance [now Career Source] to produce programming on how to get a job, how to start a business and how to find services for the elderly.
Without the City’s contribution, none of this could have happened. The City’s withdrawal of funding will adversely affect and severely threaten our ability to provide training for those who need it.
In your email, you compared our channels, but we're not at all like the government access channel. We’re providing video production training and support for ordinary citizens and non-profits to get their messages out and for viewers to learn more about what’s happening in their neighborhoods, the city and county. CTTV does not do that. Neither does it provide Tampans with a free speech venue.
On TBCN’s channels, we feature local artists and art venues, candidate forums, service organizations, local sports figures, City Councilpersons, County Commissioners, movers and shakers and others. We’ve covered debates on local issues and made viewers aware of where they can get help with medical, social and legal problems — in both English and Spanish.
We feature local musicians and their original music on our channels every day of the week.
Our training function is critical as there is an enormous — and growing — market for video production skills today. [As I always say, “You can’t be born or die without a video these days.”] To market any service or product successfully, videos are a necessity. Several entrepreneurs have thanked us for teaching them how to create videos they can use to market their goods and services.
Video opportunities are expanding daily. With more than 500 TV channels, thousands of Internet sites and Over-The-Top businesses [e.g., Netflix, Hulu, etc.] in the market for videos to air, opportunities to earn income are ever-increasing.
Those we have trained work for CTTV, HTV and every single TV or production house in the Bay area and beyond. One of our alumni runs the largest wedding video production company in Tampa, employing 14 others. [See his unsolicited remarks on our Facebook page.] People who take our training produce income from the creation of training, website, PSA, grant, event and other videos.
Your assumption about our relationship with Hillsborough County is not accurate. While it did take us out of its budget some years back, in recent years, it has provided funding to TBCN to produce our very popular “Job Hunting 101,” “Creating Your Own Job,” “Happy & Healthy” and “Innovation Fixation” series [which features Tampa’s tech creators.] These videos are garnering thousands of viewers on our YouTube channel, which has 750,000 views and 1,500 subscribers.
In FY 2017 and FY 2018, the County has committed to funding us in the amount of $200,000 to provide professional video production classes, which would be difficult — if not impossible — to do without the City’s funding.
And, we’re happy to do almost anything you need to remain in the budget. More than two years ago, TBCN created and installed a capital equipment upgrade plan for the City of Temple Terrace. Since then, we have produced their City Council, Code Enforcement and other special meetings and have posted the videos to the Internet. If the City of Tampa needs us to help with or take over CTTV, we would be happy to look at doing that as well. It would save the City more money than you would save cutting TBCN out of the budget.
We believe in what we’re doing and hope you will help us continue our work.
P.S. We wish you’d come take a tour and appear on one of our shows. We’ve asked many times.