Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Politics

Tampa's nonprofit channels cut from city budget

Scott Maiden was hoping for a government commendation when the Tampa Bay Arts & Education Network he runs marks its 30th birthday on October 1.

Instead, that will be the day the City of Tampa could end its financial partnership with the nonprofit network, which supports local educational institutions such as the Hillsborough County School Board.

"Happy birthday to us," Maiden, the network's CEO, said with a dejected laugh.

The city may also cut all funding for the not-for-profit Tampa Bay Community Network, otherwise known as public access.

Both were left out of Tampa's proposed budget for fiscal year 2018.

The already bare-bones operations would then have even less cash with which to operate and a major concern about what the future holds.

Without the $108,000 the education network received from the city last year, it will have a budget of less than $250,000, Maiden said.

Public access would lose out on $207,000 in city funds, leaving it with around $400,000, said Louise Thompson, its executive director.

"We can't live like that," Thompson said. "The way I see it, the public and educational channels should be funded at the same rate as government access."

Tampa's government access channel CTTV receives $1.3 million under the proposed budget.

The cuts were made in response to the financial burdens the city faces, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in letters to both networks.

When proposing Tampa's $974 million budget for 2017-18, he cited the rising cost of health care and pensions, tens of millions of city debt left from past administrations and the prospect voters next year will expand the state homestead property tax exemption, which would cut government revenue.

"We had to make some tough decisions," city spokesperson Ashley Bauman said. "We already fund the city's own station, which provides programming focused on highlighting the city's rich history and attractions."

Thompson believes such an attitude shows the mayor is out of touch with what public access offers.

In addition to providing air time and studio space to any county resident who wants to express themselves artistically or politically, it also offers free video production classes to locals looking for a new career, Thompson said.

"We serve the unemployed, the underemployed and the at-risk," she said, noting that public access has trained 175 people since January.

The education network produces history, arts and science content and is the video production wing of the Hillsborough school district. It offers that same service for free to local educational institutions such as the Florida Aquarium.

"We do that for them so they can save their precious budgetary dollars," Maiden said.

Both networks are familiar with the sting of ever-tightening purse strings.

The education network, Maiden said, received around $1 million annually from the county in the early 2000s but now gets nothing directly. And the School Board recently slashed funding from $25,000 a month to $18,000.

Public access, according to Thompson, received over $500,000 from the city in the late-1990s through 2009 but has seen that decline steadily since then.

Neither channel has a definitive answer for what cuts may result from the city's actions. For now, they will focus on finding more grants and reaching out to the public for increased donations.

The education channel has created its own Netflix-like app for its shows that Maiden hopes can help bring in sponsors who prefer the web to TV.

And Thompson remains optimistic city leaders will change their mind.

"The mayor is a smart man," she said. "I'm certain he will want to not only put us back in but also make the funding equal to the government channel."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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