Carroll Community Tv Seeks Financing Alternatives

November 28, 1990|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

Flipping through the upper reaches of the television dial usually means an electronic journey through a broadcasting wasteland.

But not on television sets around here, thanks to a group of people trying to bring local programs into the homes of Carroll County's cable television audience.

Indeed, those people -- about 100 of them -- are responsible for programs such as "Carroll County Aerobics," "See You at the Buck," "Labor of Love" and "Where Jesus Walked."

And while the daily offerings on cable channels 50 and 55 may not play throughout the nation's 22nd-largest television market -- the one including Baltimore and its suburbs -- they are Carroll County's only active community television outlet.

A year-and-a-half-old, Carroll Community Television keeps strictly local programming produced by countians, starring countians and for countians on the air almost eight hours a day, five days a week.

But all that could come to an end if financing for the channel -- which is guaranteed at least $60,000 a year from Prestige Cable TV until 1999 --doesn't keep up with expenses.

That possibility, while called remote by cable officials, has prompted Community Television staff members and the Carroll County Cable TV Committee to study a host of financing alternatives, which would elicit the help of the seven municipalities and parts of the county served by Prestige.

The Cable TV Committee, a group of county and municipal officials, oversees the county's franchise agreement with Prestige.

"There is no guarantee that we'll continue to receive funding," said Paul LeValley, director of Carroll Community Television. "Without funding, it would be very difficult to continue our programs."

The county's community-access channel is in no immediate danger, LeValley said.

"It's certainly not critical that we have a commitment for the money right this minute," LeValley said. "But we can't wait much longer. Our long-range plans need to be made."

Indeed, Community Television is sitting on an endowment fund of nearly $600,000, which represents fees from several sources, including franchise fees and yearly payments from Prestige. That sum, left alone, is enough to generate more than $46,000 a year in interest income.

But, LeValley and other cable officials point out, that is still less than the $60,000 a year Prestige is obligated by its franchise agreement to give until the turn of the century. And it is not enough to keep the same -- or ever-increasing -- level of programming on the air. This year's Community Television budget includes expenses of $91,672.

"The (county's Cable TV) Committee is trying to avoid having a valuable service to the county cut off," LeValley said, adding that he believes the cable channel is providing a useful service to Carroll County.

"I don't think anybody two years ago thought we'd be where we are," he said. "This is local television, this is where we can bring programming that no one else will bring."

To do that, members of the committee have been meeting informally with town and county leaders, hoping to convince them to help keep public access cable television alive.

The cable committee's proposal now in front of those officials calls for a portion of the increase in town and county cable franchise fees to be given to the cable television station.

Carroll Community Television records show those franchise fees -- paid by Prestige to the county and seven towns as part of the company's franchise agreement -- could amount to more than $1.2 million by the year 2005, a four-fold increase over this year's predicted $235,460.

Should the county and the towns agree to Community Television's proposal, the public access channel would receive a total of $4.4 million over the next 15 years. That would build the station's endowment from today's $594,000 to nearly $4.2 million by 2005.

And that kind of money could be earning interest income of more than $313,000 a year by then. Community Television officials estimate expenses during 2005 will top $275,000.

Whether Prestige will maintain its franchise as the county's largest cable television provider -- with 18,400 subscribers -- is to be decided in 1999, when the current franchise agreement is up.

Carroll Community Television was started in early 1989, and since then has given more than 100 producers air time. The community access program includes training in video production and the facilities to produce those programs.

The Cable TV Committee's request for more money from the towns and county is the second cable issue brought in front of the county's local governments this season.

In April, Prestige announced that it wanted to take back five of the 10 unused public access channels it had assigned to the towns. So far, the towns have balked at giving the channels back to the company.

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