Everett considers spending $469,000 to upgrade city’s TV studio

EVERETT — Tune into Everett TV, and you could watch an update from the mayor or the latest City Council meeting.

It’s one of the main ways the city gets its message out to residents.

City workers say the station’s equipment is obsolete and, in some cases, failing. And in order to fix

the problem, the city needs to spend nearly half a million dollars.

The City Council is now mulling whether to spend that money.

The proposal on the table with Advanced Broadcast Solutions of SeaTac would upgrade broadcast equipment for a price tag up to $469,024.

Most of that money would be spent on replacing aging analog equipment with digital technology.

Also among the proposed purchases are new furniture for a television studio, a TelePrompTer and a chroma key — perhaps best known as the green screens that television weather reporters stand in front of.

Members of the City Council have publicly raised questions about whether this is the best use of taxpayer money. They also wondered how the project’s cost ballooned from the original projection of $250,000 — without input from elected leaders.

Everett TV is available on channel 29 for Frontier subscribers and channel 21 for Comcast customers. The show reaches about 30,000 Everett households, but it’s not clear how many people watch.

The city last made significant upgrades to its broadcast equipment in 2003 when city spokeswoman Kate Reardon came on the job. That’s when the city built a small TV studio at Forest Park so the city could produce its own shows.

Reardon studied broadcast journalism in college. She wanted to apply her knowledge to improve programming the city provided, she said.

The city also maintains a control room behind City Council chambers.

The city station produces several shows, including a monthly update with the mayor. It also broadcasts City Council meetings and other government programs produced by other agencies, such as a legislative update. When a show isn’t running, the city runs a bulletin board of upcoming events and meetings.

All of the shows also are available for viewing online at the city’s website.

Like a car, the equipment the city purchased eight years ago is beginning to show its age, Reardon said. Some of it is outdated; other equipment breaks down. The station manager estimated he spends 10 hours a week monkeying with repairs, she said.

Features such as the green screen would allow the city to do more without spending much more money on a bigger TV studio, she said.

The changes would lead to better programming and reduce staff time spent fixing broken equipment, Reardon said.

“I would hope the ultimate value to our community members makes sense” to the City Council, she said.

The money to pay for the upgrades comes from a tax tacked onto Everett cable subscribers’ monthly bill. Subscribers pay $1 a month.

That money is passed on to the city, which is supposed to use it only for capital purchases that benefit cable subscribers. The city can’t use the money for operating the studio.

Right now, $1.7 million is sitting in that account.

When that information came out during the last City Council meeting, Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher’s mouth briefly fell open. Then she suggested the city consider ramping back the tax and even providing a rebate to taxpayers.

“We’re over-taxing our public,” she said.

She also suggested perhaps the city should focus its time and energy on streaming board and commission meetings to the Internet rather than TV.

The matter of how much cable subscribers in Everett are taxed will likely come up the next time the city negotiates franchise contracts with cable providers, said Debra Bryant, Everett’s chief financial officer. That’s expected to happen shortly.

It’s not clear when city leaders will make a decision on the matter but it likely won’t be for weeks.

They’ve asked for more detailed information on what those dollars would buy. Council President Shannon Affholter said he also wanted to talk more about how the city is using its TV station.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197; dsmith@heraldnet.com.

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