TV30 facing financial fight for its life
Costs soar, revenue down as mayors take control of station
The four Tri-Valley mayors who have taken control of TV30, the area's pioneer and only independent community television system, may scuttle much of the live on-air programming, including its award-winning news show, to stop a continuing financial shortfall that has put the entire system at risk.
"We have to understand that TV30 is in receivership and we can't spend any more money until we fix the problem," Dublin Mayor Janet Lockhart said.
Lockhart, who chairs the new TV30 board, said the group is determined to hold the line this year on the system's $654,933 fiscal year budget that ends June 30. On a month-to-month analysis, however, it's already overspent.
Others on the board are mayors Jennifer Hosterman, Marshall Kamena of Livermore and H. Abram Wilson of San Ramon.
After a major budget shortfall last May that required each of the four cities to provide emergency funds of $65,000, city officials fumed and warned they might not be so generous again. That's when the mayors wrested control of the volunteer board and imposed strict fiscal rules to be handled by each city on a rotating basis. This is Dublin's two-year duty.
At a recent strategic planning session, the mayors said costly programs that are not generating revenue may have to be cut back or axed altogether, including its much heralded news show, called "Live at Four," which airs four days a week and is one of only a few live news broadcasts from a community television system.
Lockhart said there could be cutbacks in the times TV30 and its auxiliary channels 28 and 29 are on the air, and a reliance on more self-produced shows, such as a program ValleyCare Medical System pays for and produces.
"We simply have to stop spending," Lockhart said.
That might not be easy. Glenn Davis, station director, said much of the equipment, including costly cameras, computers and software packages, are old and capable of only broadcasting in analog in an age when acceptable programming requires all-digital broadcasts. Although TV30 made the switch to digital, Davis said the old equipment is being strained to the breaking point and will have to be replaced if TV30 stays on the air.
His concerns were overshadowed, however, by a second harassment suit filed against him in as many years. Davis has since been placed on paid administrative leave although the board agreed to allow his accuser, Misty Ty, to continue her television production work at the station. Last year, News Director Linda Elliot quit the station and filed a sexual harassment suit against Davis. A hearing on the suit is pending in Alameda County Superior Court.
There's been personnel turmoil at TV30 for several years. Darla Stevens, a longtime director and one of the founders of TV30, left the station amid an exodus of long-term employees when the four cities hired a $50,000-a-year director, Bruce Goddard. But he lasted only a year after complaints began surfacing about his management style and several key on-air professionals left. It took six months before Davis, a television producer, was recruited and hired.
Davis moved quickly to upgrade the station with new equipment and programs. He also bought outside programs from other community stations, including "Washington Report" and added "Buzz" to the nightly news, featuring celebrity reports on Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and others.
"I'm not sure where we will go with live news," Lockhart said, "but it seems to have lost some of its local thrust."
At the end of the 2005-06 fiscal year, TV30's budget totaled $677,479, well above the $409,442 received that year from Comcast which collects 50 cents per subscriber to support TV30 and also provides it with flagship channel 30 and auxiliary channels 28 and 29. At the end of 2007, with Comcast's funding rising to $473,818, TV30's budget rose to $710,863.
TV30 had obtained a line of credit to take care of shortfalls, but used this to cover bills and payroll in 2006. Last year, with no backup plan, the station was $208,000 in debt in May. Cities rushed emergency measures through their councils to provide $65,000 from their General Funds so that TV30 could meet its payroll.
"It was a real wakeup call," said Lockhart, who has been chosen chairwoman of the new board of mayors. Dublin also has assumed fiscal and oversight responsibility for the station for next two years.
In its strategic planning session, the mayors and their staffs read through the details of two- and three-year-old financial reports that an auditor had just completed examining. They also reviewed surveys of other community television stations with budgets for the current fiscal year considerably under TV30's $654,933 for the 12-month period ending this coming June 30. Unlike TV30, however, most of the other stations are owned and operated by cities or a county, with public programming largely targeted to covering government news.
Fremont spends $5,000 a year for its Channel 27 broadcast, which airs programs created by city departments eight hours each day, five days a week. Tracy spends $160,000 for staff salaries and supplies for its city programs on Channel 26; Ventura spends $460,000 for programs that include adult education, and Los Gatos spends $75,000.
Only Palo Alto and Contra Costa County spend more than TV30. Contra Costa, which airs locally on Channel 27 in the Tri-Valley, appropriates $800,000 from the county's General Fund. Palo Alto broadcasts locally in that city on channels 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30 at a cost of $700,000.