LACONIA — To keep Lakes Region Public Access television (LRPA) on the air to the end of the year, the City Council this week unanimously agreed to release $20,000, all that remains of the $39,500 originally appropriated for the station in the fiscal year 2015 city budget.
Since July 1 LRPA has been drawing from its reserves to sustain operations, when member municipalities entered a new 10-year contract with MetroCast Cablevision. Under the new contract each municipality will operate educational and governmental channels (24 and 26), which will broadcast only to the municipality where the programming originates.
Meanwhile, LRPA would provide public access on channel 25, airing programs from individuals and organizations from the member municipalities. However, LRPA decided to adopt a different funding model — one that relies primarily on business and individual sponsorships — and the six municipalities, which had recently contributed to funding the operation of LRPA — Laconia, Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Meredith and Northwood, were not billed for their traditional level of support. At the same time, MetroCast, which had provided an annual $30,000 grant to LRPA, declined to renew under the terms of their new contracts.
LRPA's board and staff, however, failed to execute the new game plan and just last week sent out bills to the six municipalities, asking for the same level of funding as provided last year.
"We're operating on fumes right now," station manager Denise Beauchaine told the council. The City Council earlier trimmed $10,000 from its original appropriation, leaving $29,500, which Beauchaine said "gets us to the end of the year, but beyond that I don't know."
However, City Manager Scott Myers reminded the councilors that the city will be operating channels 24 and 26 and has applied "$7,000 or $8,000" to acquire the necessary technology, further reducing the reducing the available balance.
Beauchaine suggested that funding by the city might encourage some other towns to contribute. ""We're hoping you could lead a transition here," she said. She was echoed by Nancy Leroy, a member of the board of directors of LRPA, who urged the council to provide the funds. "I know you can do it," she said. "The other towns are looking to you and you know it." Beauchaine said that if all six towns contributed the $126,000 would fund operations until July, 2015.
But, in response to a question from Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) Beauchaine conceded that LRPA needs a new business model to sustain operations for the long-term. She explained that the board of directors developed a model based on soliciting sponsorships and donations, but has not had time or resources to pursue it.
Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5), who serves as a director of LRPA, reminded the councilors that without funding there might be no telecasting of the WLNH Children's Auction come December and other popular programming would be lost "it would be a real shame to see the possibility of this going down," he said, adding that the $20,000 "will be enough for a little while, but not for long."
Beauchaine said that board members would approach the selectboards in Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Meredith and Northwood with requests for funding.
The selectboards in Gilford and Belmont have already tabled requests made to them for additional funding. Meredith is expected to take up the mater on Monday.
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