WALLINGFORD — The mayor publicly signaled his opposition last week to consolidating operations of three locally-controlled television cable channels under one roof.
Wallingford has two municipally-controlled cable channels.
Wallingford Government TV (WGTV), the government cable television channel, and the Board of Education’s TV channel. Both broadcast, live stream and archive many public meetings and events.
WPAA, the local public access cable television station, is an independently operated nonprofit entity, producing community-oriented programming.
WPAA requested a contribution of $20,000 from the town, as a local nonprofit organization, to be included in the 2021-22 municipal budget.
According to a March 16 letter to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., WPAA offered to take on WGTV and BOE video production services, saying that consolidating resources among the three TV channels could be more cost effective.
WPAA’s executive director Susan Huizenga said Tuesday that the $20,000 “represents what we lose in other sources because of the lack of having a relationship” between the town and WPAA.
She said that Wallingford residents pay about $100,000 in cable subscriber fees, and roughly $20,000 gets siphoned off every year to go to North Branford, Guilford and Madison — members of the same cable advisory council.
“That was supposed to be sunset, or re-evaluated, in 2012, and the Town Council refused to put it on their agenda,” she said. “We've subsequently been operating at a loss of that amount since that time.”
WPAA’s overall income is less than $100,000 annually, which Huizenga said puts WPAA at a disadvantage when applying for grants.
“We would be eligible for grants to do some diversity inclusion work, which is an extension of the work we have been doing for years, and we can't get that funding because we have to have a minimum of $100,000 (of annual income) in our application,” she said.
Dickinson denies request
Huizenga said that if WPAA were to take on contracting for video production services, she would recommend that the town hire someone who understands government access and the technology, as well as closing down the current WGTV studio on Fairfield Boulevard.
“Just close that down and let the taxpayers have that back for other purposes,” she said.
Dickinson denied the $20,000 funding request, saying in a March 23 letter that since the town is already supporting WGTV and the BOE channel, WPAA’s request would be a further financial obligation to taxpayers. He didn’t address WPAA’s offer to streamline services.
Huizenga questioned Dickinson again about consolidating operations last week, this time publicly.
She asked Dickinson about the possibility of merging resources April 12 during a public hearing on the mayor’s proposed 2021-22 budget — the first step of the Town Council’s budget approval process.
Questions asked during the public hearing weren’t answered immediately, but town department heads can address them during their respective budget hearings, which are scheduled to be held once or twice a week through May 4.
Dickinson — who answered questions at WGTV’s budget workshop April 13 as former manager Scott Hanley has retired — again reiterated his position unfavorable to consolidation.
“There's no plan to be dealing with public access,” he said. “We have no plans to incorporate (them) all under one roof.”
Dickinson did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
Manager position funded
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. released his $177,090,079 budget proposal earlier this month.
WGTV’s total budget is proposed at $132,181, with 88 percent — $116,391 — going toward the manager’s salary and wages for seven part-time employees. Hanley’s ending annual salary reached $92,636.
Although Dickinson has said he may not replace Hanley with a full time employee, he funded a department request for a manager position.
Dickinson’s proposed budget funds almost all of the department request, including $6,000 for production equipment, but reduces the overall operating and maintenance budget by 20 percent.
During the April 13 budget workshop for WGTV, he answered questions from residents Bob Gross and Adelheid Koepfer, who both asked if Dickinson plans on replacing Hanley with a full time staff member.
Dickinson said that it’s “something that has to be determined.”
Dickinson did not address a question from Gross about whether town meetings could still be live streamed when boards start regularly meeting in-person again.
Koepfer had asked if it was possible to upload audio recordings of meetings to the town website since some boards, such as the Public Utilities Commission, don't video record in-person meetings.
Dickinson said that he had “nothing to respond with,” as he wasn’t sure the question fell under WGTV or the PUC.
“I'm not sure that uploading audio is really a worthwhile exercise, but there's nothing in the budget right now for that,” he said.
The council can make amendments to Dickinson's budget on May 6 before voting to adopt a 2021-22 budget May 11. If the council does not adopt an amended budget, the mayor's proposal will go into effect automatically.