Cover Story: Major funding cut to WTVI

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - As Mecklenburg County Commissioners struggle to allocate their dwindling resources, most of the people who watch the process watch it on TV.

A new proposal in that struggle would eliminate funding for WTVI, the station that broadcasts those meetings.

Parks, libraries and schools are taking serious cuts, but the county-owned public television station is staring at a potential zero for its funding line.

WTVI's facing county funding cuts before but never like this.  A complete elimination of local government money.

And so they're turning to some heavy hitters to try to convince the county that they're relevant to the community.

"WTVI is my source for making democracy work."

A line you'll be hearing a lot more of in the coming months.

Tuesday afternoon, on the plaza in front of the Government Center, the head of the League of Women Voters was seen taping a TV spot in support of WTVI.

"Everybody's asked to tighten their belt. And they're asking WTVI to shut it down. I don't think that's right," said Janet Brinkley, co-chair of the LWV of Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

But more than TV spots that will air on TVI, volunteers hope to send out 5,000 postcards to county commissioners and buttons that read-- "I watch and I vote".. making a serious statement to those who hold the purse strings.

The TV station enlisted the League of Women Voters and other groups like the Spanish speaking community that use TVI to reach their wider audience.

"Government is important to them," said Brinkley, "what happens in their county is important to them and you're taking that away. So we're asking the county commissioners to re-think what they've cut or what they're asking.. and to do it proportionately with the rest of the cuts."

Recommended as part of County Manager Harry Jones' budget, a 100% funding cut to WTVI.  No other department or outside group taking such a serious hit.

Elsie Garner is the president and CEO of WTVI Channel 42. She says, "It seemed to me unfair. I don't want to whine about this and I know we're having a very difficult community economic thing."

If the cuts stick, WTVI would see a loss of $883,000 from the county.. 23-percent of its budget.

It would mean the end of county commission meetings airing on free TV, League of Women Voters pre-election candidate debates, and the elimination of maintenance on high-tech equipment the county purchased for the station.

"We provide a lot more to this community than I think the county is actually thinking about," says Garner.

But at a time the county is faced with the prospects of laying off teachers, closing libraries, and making drastic cuts to park and recreation keep funding the TV station of Barney and other popular characters.. may be difficult.

"Once you start taking these things that are available to the public free of charge I might add.. then you start to compromise the quality of life here," says Brinkley.

Cutting out all county funding won't be the end of WTVI.  It will still stay on the air, but the station's HD-channel "Public Square" will go dark.

And County commission meetings will still be on TV, on the Government Channel 16, but that's only if you're a customer of Time Warner Cable and not everybody has cable.

Are these cuts the final word?

The county manager is shooting for a 100% elimination, we'll see if that's his recommendation when his budget comes out in a few weeks.

County commissioners have the final say.  They approve the budget in June.

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