Columbia Access Television Could Lose its Funding

Related Story

COLUMBIA - Columbia's city manager said funding for the public access television station must be cut, even though the media center provides a valuable service.

Workers for Columbia Access Television said the cuts would hurt the community.

"Moving from $200,000 a year to zero, that would affect the hundreds of members we have, the dozens of collaborations we have with non-profits and then the thousands that are affected by that," CAT Executive Director Jennifer Erickson said.

CAT received $200,000 from the city's general fund each year for the past five years.

In his budget proposed to the city council, City Manager Mike Matthes recommended the city cut funding to CAT when its five-year contract expires on September 30.

The proposed 2014 budget would be the first balanced budget since 1989.

Matthes said the city cut millions of dollars over the past several years to reach that point.

"If you think about it, we've cut everything over the last five years," Matthes said. "We've cut the police department, we've cut the fire department, we've cut care. Every service we offer has seen a reduction from the general fund."

The budget is not finalized, and the city council has two months to decide if and how it would like to fund CAT.

"The council has a lot of choices in front of it. It does have a contingency fund. It could choose to use some of that. It could choose to step down CAT over time," Matthes said.

The funding would typically come from the general fund because there is no revenue specifically allocated to CAT.

"All the revenue is spoken for. There are some folks who feel like there's some dedicated revenue to this. There really isn't," he said.

Erickson said CAT is willing to work with the city to find a solution. She said CAT is working on a sustainability plan and hopes to be self-sufficient in a few years.

"We were preparing for cuts. We know the economic atmosphere," Erickson said. "I'm really hoping that the city council can put us in the budget on some level."

The city's general fund also includes the police and fire departments. Matthes said that makes it especially hard to find money for CAT.

"It's using the same fund as 20 other departments who all compete better for dollars, so to speak," Matthes said. "I'm not going to lay off officers, I'm not going to lay off firefighters, and that's literally the choice that confronts me."

Matthes said, however, he recognizes why residents want money to go toward CAT.

"There's no question that they're good at what they do and provide a value to the public. This is purely, you know, we're out of money, and I couldn't find a way to come up with any more and balance the budget," Matthes said.

Pat Holt, who has spent years creating programs for CAT, said the media center is about more than just local television.

"I think it's important for the young people to come in and it gives them something to do to express themselves in a positive way," Holt said. "Maybe by me being here shooting some film and editing, it will give them some ideas of what they can do that's more positive than just hanging out, getting in trouble."

Erickson said CAT provides a service to the community and a place where people can share their opinions.

She said CAT provides an outlet for people of all experience levels, and its programming lineup reflects that.

CAT focuses on educating individuals, so some of its producers are first-timers while others have been making programs for decades.

CAT worked with the Citizen Jane Film Academy, the True/False Film Festival, the League of Women Voters, the Missouri Contemporary Ballet, the Roots N Blues N BBQ festival, and many more organizations in past years.

Programming Director Sean Brown said CAT's membership includes all kinds of people.

"They are our community. We have people ranging from 15-years-old to 75-years-old. We have all kinds of races and nationalities represented, men, women. You know, it's our community and it's a cross-section of what Columbia is," Brown said.