The Village of New Paltz may be able to save thousands annually with a new proposal, but at a potential cost to the administration’s accessibility and the community.
At a Village Board meeting held on Sept. 27, New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers proposed cutting financial support for the position of program coordinator at Channel 23, the municipality’s public access channel. The channel, contractually provided by the cable company Spectrum, is currently used to air community-driven content and recordings of public government meetings in the Town and Village of New Paltz.
In order to manage the content of the channel, both the Village and the Town each pay a program coordinator $7,000 annually. Rogers sees this as an unnecessary expense for the municipality. Instead, he proposed to cut the coordinator’s funding, leaving the channel to be run by volunteers and the Village to stream and post their recorded meetings online.
Rogers believes the transition would be easy, as the Village already archives recorded meetings on their public Youtube channel and has many avenues to implement live streams.
“A majority of people have Internet access,” Rogers said. “The trend is clear and I’m okay pushing the paradigm because of the cost.”
Some, like Anton Stewart, member of the Village’s public access committee, say that the cost is negligible. The Village, as part of their contract with the cable company, receives $40,000 annually in revenue, according to members of the committee and Rogers. Stewart also says that Village has a financial obligation to maintain support, as subscribers of Spectrum pay a monthly franchise fee of 3.5 percent of their cable bill to access the channel.
Stewart voiced his stance against the proposal not just financially, but technically. He emphasized the use of live streams as an interactive platform, a dynamic he does not believe would benefit the audience or the Board in the case of access to meetings. He also said that the audience of the channel and the role it serves to the community are reason not to end support and use of the channel by the Village. The sentiment was echoed by program coordinator Bob Fagan.
“Even if they decide to go their own way, there should be a way to get the [meeting] streams on Channel 23,” Fagan said. “A lot of the elderly don’t get their TV on the Internet so it’s important to consider that.”
Stewart said the prominence and role of Channel 23 can be increased by improving the quality of and awareness for community-generated content. More of the franchise fee could be used to fund classes on broadcast production, editing and filming to create higher quality content and a local interest in the channel’s offerings. Stewart also suggested collaboration with SUNY New Paltz’s digital media department to increase student involvement in the community and provide experience in TV production.
“Certainly we can do a lot more with public access,” Stewart said. “I’d even love to have a news program.”
To fully achieve an increase in the channel’s broadcast standards, the committee would also have to appeal to the cable company for improved broadcast quality, as the current quality does not warrant an elevated caliber of production.
“The quality of the broadcast has been limited. That’s Spectrum’s fault,” said Andrea Russo, public access committee chair, pointing out that the broadcast was digital, but not in high definition. “It’s always been somewhat disappointing.”
Regardless of their stance on further support of a coordinator for Channel 23, both Stewart and Rogers underscored the importance of volunteers from the community in content generation for the channel. The fate of Channel 23 rests in the hands of its viewers and the denizens of New Paltz.