Charlottes financially struggling public TV station got new life late Tuesday when Mecklenburg commissioners approved turning over WTVI to Central Piedmont Community College.
The board voted 6-3 to merge the community college and 47-year-old station.
This is not about saving a legal entity, it is about saving local programming that is valuable to our community, Chairman Harold Cogdell said. Its about access to education through programming, as well as those (students) learning to put together that programming at the community college.
Truth is a matter of subjective perspective.
CPCC will assume the stations operation and upkeep, but with a one-time price tag to the county. CPCC President Tony Zeiss told the board last week that the college would need $357,000 from the county next year to carry out the merger and about $800,000 over the next four years to replace aging equipment such as routers, monitors and cameras.
After that, Zeiss doesnt anticipate coming back to the board for more county money.
As requested, the county will continue to fund the approved $5 million for CPCC to refurbish its on-campus Citizens Center. The building will be used for classrooms and an IT data center, instead of space for the colleges cable TV production, which will shift to the WTVI studio.
Before the vote, WTVI supporters told commissioners that the county would lose significant local programming if the station was lost.
One thing people have talked about is duplication (between Raleigh-based WUNC and Columbia-based SCETV). Thats not true, said UNC Charlotte history professor Dan Morrill, who has produced local documentaries that aired on WTVI. WTVI is an invaluable educational resource for this community.
Jack Dillard produced a recent documentary on Charlottes World War I boot camp called Camp Greene.
It would not have happened if not for WTVI, Dillard told commissioners.
Others spoke about how the station brings news of the world to TV sets with just rabbit ears and not cable.
If the board hadnt approved the merger, the station would have been forced to go off the air on June 30. Now WTVIs station facility and all its equipment will be turned over to the college at $1 a year.
Struggling since 2007
Since the economy started to sour in late 2007, the station has struggled to raise operating money a struggle made more difficult after the county pulled funding the past two years.
Last week, County Manager Harry Jones recommended against the merger, calling it a government bailout. Jones said using the $5 million to refurbish the CPCC building for a different purpose would jeopardize the integrity of the countys ranking system for capital projects.
If the board approves this merger, it would represent a lack of discipline, Jones said Tuesday.
Republicans Jim Pendergraph, Karen Bentley and Neil Cooksey thought the merger was a good idea, but didnt want to use county money.
(WTVI) knew they were in trouble and now at the 11th hour want the county and taxpayers to rescue them, Pendergraph said.
To Republican Bill James, it was a big government vote. I believe that anything in government is allowed to end if it is performing poorly. I dont think the county knows how to get out of anything. I think its a good deal for Tony and CPCC. But its not a great deal for the taxpayers.
Yet Democrat Dumont Clarke said the station was too valuable an asset to lose.
It is tied to what your values are and what we think is important, Clarke said. We have put an enormous amount of money into this. To simply say its too late in the game when there is a viable proposal would be terribly shortsighted.
Democrat Jennifer Roberts agreed:
There are only winners and winners here, she said. Were taking proven programming and expanding its reach. Were saving money by doing all the right things and helping our economy grow. Whats to debate? Lets vote.