Public access TV advocates beg Hillsborough to reconsider cuts

09/06/07 Mitch E. Perry
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Last night, dozens of citizens asked Hillsborough County Commission not to completely cut funding of the county’s cable access and education channels.

In the first of two public hearings on the proposed 2008 budget, citizens spoke for nearly 2½ hours in their first opportunity to challenge the $55-million in budget cuts proposed by County Administrator Pat Bean.

Bean has proposed eliminating completely the $355,000 plus for the Tampa Bay Community Network, and $419,000 for the award winning Education Channel.

Battling the County Commission for its funding life is nothing new for Louise Thompson, executive director of the public access channel called Speak Up Tampa Bay. Years ago, a drive led by former Commissioner Ronda Storms over some objectionable programming led to a similar showdown.

In her three minutes before the board, Thompson extolled the virtues of her channel and concluded with a parting shot that the County’s Government channel, is not taking a financial hit.

Although there has been tension between the board and Speak Up Tampa Bay over the years, there has not publicly been any troubles between commissioners and the award-winning Education Channel.

In a compromise, Education channel officials have proposed that they receive only 75 percent of their previous budget.

Brianna Turner is an eighth-grader at Stewart Middle Magnet School. She says the Homework Hotline on the channel has a big impact on students who don’t have the educational support at home.

The budget includes strong cuts to a variety of nonprofit groups. Karla Holding ripped the Commission for what she said were its misplaced priorities.

Lynn McDaniel chided ccommissioner for not only cutting the education channel, but spending more money for the Tampa Bay Sports Authority and more than $1-million on high definition televisions in luxury suites at Raymond James Stadium.

After the last citizen had spoken, County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said he wanted to restore a substantial amount funding for public access and the education channel.

Commissioners Rose Ferlita and Kevin White also expressed support for restoring funding for the channels.

The County Commission will make its final decision after the second and final budget hearing on Sept. 20.

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