The commish report: Buncombe County commissioners’ April 5 session

At its April 5 meeting, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners took the following actions (Chair David Gantt and Bill Stanley were absent):

• Heard a funding report for URTV, the public access channel for Buncombe County and the City of Asheville. John Howell of Telecommunications Consulting Associates, who presented the report, said that the county should expect to receive about $68,000 in state Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) funding for public access television stations. Half of that money would go to URTV, half to the Buncombe County Government channel. URTV’s 2012 budget is $297,450. The WNC Media Center, which operates URTV, has said it will cease operations on April 30 unless it receives additional funding.

• Passed a zoning amendment allowing for the building of public safety communications towers. The towers are for transmitting critical voice and data communications for public safety personnel such as EMS, law enforcement, and fire departments. The measure was passed 3-0.

• Heard a report on the recently announced Community Health Rankings. Buncombe County ranked 17th healthiest out of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Factors considered in the rankings included tobacco use, diet and exercise, access to healthcare, education, and environmental quality. Buncombe County is worse than the state average in adult smoking rates, high school graduation rates, and excessive drinking rates, but better than the state average in adult obesity, unemployment, access to healthy foods and preventable hospital stays. (See

• Adopted a proclamation recognizing Otto DeBruhl for his years of service as the county’s Register of Deeds.

Here’s a roundup of freelance reporter Christopher George’s live tweets from the meeting:

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Buncombe County Commissioner Meeting called to order 04:31:00 PM

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Commission Chairman David Gantt and Vice Chairman Bill Stanley not present. 04:33:00 PM
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First up: proclamation recognizing Otto DeBruhl for years of service as Register of Deeds. 04:36:00 PM
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Up next: County Manager’s Report on Community Health Rsnkings 04:44:00 PM
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County Manager Wanda Greene: Buncombe ranked 17th in overall health rankings out of 100 counties. 04:52:00 PM
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Buncombe ranked 15th in mortality and morbidity 04:53:00 PM
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County Manager Wanda Greene: “We’ve made strides, but we’ve got a long way to go.” re: health rankings. 04:55:00 PM
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Next: public hearing on rezoning request for parcel from single-family residential to commercial. Surrounding properties commercial 05:03:00 PM
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Property owner: Barbara Cooper Moore. 05:03:00 PM
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Property on Hwy 70. 05:04:00 PM
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Rezoning request passes 3-0. 05:06:00 PM
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Next: Zoning Amendment for Public Safety Communication Towers 05:07:00 PM
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Towers used for communicating with EMS, Sheriff’s office, and Fire Department. 05:08:00 PM
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Most towers are under 180’ 05:09:00 PM
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Zoning exemption would not open door for rezoning requests from commercial towers according to staff. 05:13:00 PM
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Concerns raised about potential property seizure and health effects of towers. 05:20:00 PM
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No property will be seized and no detrimental health effects according to staff. 05:21:00 PM
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Rezoning measure passes 3-0 05:22:00 PM
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Next: resolution in support of state human services consolidation bill in General Assembly 05:24:00 PM
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County only pays a small portion of money for human services. State and federal dollars make up most funding. 05:26:00 PM
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Motion passes 3-0 05:39:00 PM
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Next: Resolution to request that State Board of Transportation name section of Hwy 70 “Highway of Heroes” on honor of veterans 05:43:00 PM
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Resolution passes 3-0 05:44:00 PM
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Next: County Manager’s report on URTV, John Howell presenting 05:46:00 PM
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URTV and BCTV two groups certified for PEG funding by county 05:48:00 PM
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PEG funds come from state, distributed by county 05:49:00 PM
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Charter once provided funding for public channels. Contract terminated when AT&T started providing tv service in Buncombe 05:52:00 PM
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Charter subscription rates have shrunk from 7 of 10 county residents who can get cable to 5 of 10. 05:54:00 PM
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More funding could have came to URTV from Charter if more content had been produced locally according to Howell 05:56:00 PM
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County received about $1.2 million from Charter last year. 05:58:00 PM
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Current PEG funding per channel from state is $4,310 per quarter. 06:00:00 PM
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Bill in General Assembly could double that funding if passed 06:01:00 PM
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State PEG money must be divided between URTV and BCTV equally. 06:04:00 PM
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Franchise fees paid by Charter go directly into county general fund. 06:06:00 PM
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Public comment opened on URTV issue. 06:10:00 PM
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Vice president of WNC Community Media Center Bob Horn cites increased use of equipment by community for URTV programming. 06:16:00 PM
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Horn also cites decrease in funding from county for URTV. 06:17:00 PM
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Other counties have increased funding for public access during same time – Horn 06:19:00 PM
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In the beginning, the airwaves belonged to us, the people – Horn 06:23:00 PM
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Commissioner Jones asks question about why URTV hasn’t found other revenue like other channels, cites Charlotte station 06:25:00 PM
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We’re all trying to find ways to live in a new world – Commissioner Jones 06:27:00 PM
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Former board member questions URTV lack of effort in finding partners in community. 06:29:00 PM
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Another former board member says alternative funding not pursued properly. 06:39:00 PM
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James Lattimore does show for URTV. Says most people associated with station volunteer their time 06:41:00 PM
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Supporter compares equality of public access with inequality of regular networks 06:45:00 PM
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URTV supporters cite importance of public access, others cite need to find new revenue streams. 06:54:00 PM
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Jeff Turner claims funding distribution between URTV and BCTV is uneven in favor of BCTV. 06:58:00 PM
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Supporter says that public access is a free speech issue. 06:59:00 PM
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Two more URTV supporters cite freedom of speech as reason for government support. 07:08:00 PM
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One show producer says he was recognized on a flight from work with URTV 07:12:00 PM
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Another producer says URTV represents “free art without compromise.” 07:17:00 PM
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URTV supporter proposes forming independent committee to distribute PEG funding. 07:25:00 PM
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Jerry Rice says he’s troubled by lack of transparency at URTV. 07:31:00 PM
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Now on to board appointments. 07:32:00 PM
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No action taken on URTV funding. 07:32:00 PM
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All board appointments approved: see agenda for names http://t.co/csCoiXi 07:34:00 PM
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Public comment coming up. 07:36:00 PM
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One comment from someone supporting Rep. Moffitt’s plan for district elections for Commissioners 07:44:00 PM
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Commissioners going into closed session. No action expected afterward. 07:47:00 PM

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25 thoughts on “The commish report: Buncombe County commissioners’ April 5 session

  1. OK, none of this makes sense. So, the PEG fees aren’t affected but the franchise contract no longer exists so the people at URTV can’t manage to…

    And what is BCTV? Why aren’t they crying “lack of funds”?

  2. BCTV is Buncombe County TV…the government channel. I think it is on channel 10.

    I think it is funny that the two stations only received 2.6% of the money ($1.2 mln) the county collected from Charter. I thought it would have been more…

  3. Heh. I figured out BCTV a few minutes after posting. I imagine they don’t have a problem with funding since they are a such a minimal-effort venture anyway.

    After all, you point a video camera at the board during meetings and run a powerpoint presentation with smooth jazz the other 22 hours a day. (The ‘G’ in PEG is sorely lacking in most places).

    It is interesting, though, what happens to that money. Does state control of the funds, versus local control, matter?

    Where is the other $1,168,000 going?

  4. http://www.citizen-times.com/article/2011304060032

    The AC-T reports that the $34,000 is solely for URTV. So someone has something wrong somewhere.

    I still say that the first viable option would be moving to viewer-supported funding in order to bridge a budget gap (even leaving aside any sort of argument over if there is one or why it is there).

    Secondly, finding out why that PEG money seems out of balance would be nice. The fees collected from Charter in Buncombe County should come back to Buncombe County.

  5. Ruh-roh, Raggy!

    I think we’ve found an area of agreement, most especially in regards to the viewer-supported funding. Under the right conditions, URTV could spring board to become a regional network if it pays attention to using the Internet as a distribution network for programming.

  6. The PEG funding is currently around $34,000 split between BCTV and URTV. There is a bill currently in the General Assembly that would double that ammount, meaning that URTV and BCTV would each get around $34,000. That assumes the bill passes of course.

    PEG money has not been collected from Charter in Buncombe County since AT&T was allowed to provide television service. The funding coming from Raleigh is out of a fund set aside for the General Assembly specifically for public access stations.

    The county does collect franchise fees from Charter, but those go into the general fund. The county views those funds much the same way it views other utility fees.

  7. The point that seems to be missing here is that the “$34,000 split between BCTV and URTV,” is actually called PEG Supplemental Fees.

    I will assume most people know what the word supplemental means. So, where’s the $ that the $34,000 is supplemental too? Should be around $137,000, which the media center has yet to receive from BC, even though we are under contract.

    This is why the media center and URTV are out of funds.

  8. @ Mat: ………..its not $1.1 million. According to the NC Dept. of Revenue, it will be more than 1.5 million for FY 2011.

    Here’s a link for last year’s report, illustrating just how much BC gets from Cable companies through Raleigh. (it the second column from the end called Video Distribution)

    http://www.dornc.com/publications/reimbursement.html

    Buncombe County (line 101 in the spreadsheet) received $1,635,709.

    Asheville (line 102 ) received $1,122,728.

    Thats a total of $2,758,437.

    ————————————————
    It generally takes about $500,000/year to run a community channel. The Western North Carolina Community Media Center has been and can continue to do it for less than $300,000. Thats why we are a national model for how to successfully run Public Access.

    So, out of $2,758437, WNCCMC is asking for $300,000. Thats reasonable. They can keep the other $2,458,437.

    I hope people like you starting asking more questions of the local government and looking for the facts themselves, because the local media is missing the story here. :(

  9. Apparently, I need to read up some more on PEG fees. I can’t understand why no one has mounted a legal challenge to have those fees disbursed back out to the stations they are supposed to support.

    How much does Haywood County get back for its government channels? They are also a Charter system (well, most of it is). Do the other counties have any similar arrangements with Time-Warner or Comcast (or whoever, I’ve forgotten who has which systems up there).

  10. A couple of points of clarification. The aforementioned bill that would double Buncombe County’s PEG funds from about $34,000 to about $68,000 has already been passed. It is set to go into effect in July 2011 unless funding is reduced during the current General Assembly session.

    Also, the other franchise fees are distributed by the state as well. Except for 5.79 percent designated specifically for PEG channels, the local governments receiving those funds can distribute them as they deem fit. Currently, Buncombe County uses that PEG funding for expenses related to the operation of BCTV and the Asheville City Schools channel. The rest goes into the general fund.

  11. @ Mat: North Carolina HAS disbursed those funds, and it has been confirmed by the Dept. of Revenue.

    …at this point, its our local leaders, i.e. Buncombe County Commissioners and Asheville City Council-members—–holding up the funds.

    I’d be happy to talk with you in a better forum than this about PEG funding. I invite you to an orientation at the media center every Wednesday @ 6pm.

  12. Mat,
    Here’s some of the text of the 2006 Videoo Act. I’ll include a link to the rest of the law. It’s arcane stuff…so good luck.

    If URTV does close it’s doors on 4/30…(they may not, this could be another head fake, that they’re infamous for)….there needs to be a complete and thorough accounting of all invoices spent on equipment, and those equipment invoices must match up to equipment in the building.

    http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/Sessions/2005/Bills/House/HTML/H2047v6.html
    § 66?357. Availability and use of PEG channels.

    (a) Application. – This section applies to a person who provides cable service under a State?issued franchise. It does not apply to a person who provides cable service under an existing agreement.

    (b) Local Request. – A county or city must make a written request to a cable service provider for PEG channel capacity. The request must include a statement describing the county’s or city’s plan to operate and program each channel requested. The cable service provider must provide the requested PEG channel capacity within the later of the following:

    (1) 120 days after the cable service provider receives the written request.

    (2) 30 days after any interconnection requested under G.S. 66?358(a)(1) is accomplished.

    (c) Initial PEG Channels. – A city with a population of at least 50,000 is allowed a minimum of three initial PEG channels plus any channels in excess of this minimum that are activated, as of July 1, 2006, under the terms of an existing franchise agreement whose franchise area includes the city. A city with a population of less than 50,000 is allowed a minimum of two initial PEG channels plus any channels in excess of this minimum that are activated, as of July 1, 2006, under the terms of an existing franchise agreement whose franchise area includes the city. For a city included in the franchise area of an existing agreement, the agreement determines the service tier placement and transmission quality of the initial PEG channels. For a city that is not included in the franchise area of an existing agreement, the initial PEG channels must be on a basic service tier, and the transmission quality of the channels must be equivalent to those of the closest city covered by an existing agreement.

    A county is allowed a minimum of two initial PEG channels plus any channels in excess of this minimum that are activated, as of July 1, 2006, under the terms of an existing franchise agreement whose franchise area includes the county. For a county included in the franchise area of an existing agreement, the agreement determines the service tier placement and transmission quality of the initial PEG channels. For a county that is not included in the franchise area of an existing agreement, the initial PEG channels must be on a basic service tier and the transmission quality of the channels must be equivalent to those of any city with PEG channels in the county.

    The cable service provider must maintain the same channel designation for a PEG channel unless the service area of the State?issued franchise includes PEG channels that are operated by different counties or cities and those PEG channels have the same channel designation. Each county and city whose PEG channels are served by the same cable system headend must cooperate with each other and with the cable system provider in sharing the capacity needed to provide the PEG channels.

    (d) Additional PEG Channels. – A county or city that does not have seven PEG channels, including the initial PEG channels, is eligible for an additional PEG channel if it meets the programming requirements in this subsection. A county or city that has seven PEG channels is not eligible for an additional channel.

    A county or city that meets the programming requirements in this subsection may make a written request under subsection (b) of this section for an additional channel. The additional channel may be provided on any service tier. The transmission quality of the additional channel must be at least equivalent to the transmission quality of the other channels provided.

    The PEG channels operated by a county or city must meet the following programming requirements for at least 120 continuous days in order for the county or city to obtain an additional channel:

    (1) All of the PEG channels must have scheduled programming for at least eight hours a day.

    (2) The programming content of each of the PEG channels must not repeat more than fifteen percent (15%) of the programming content on any of the other PEG channels.

    (3) No more than fifteen percent (15%) of the programming content on any of the PEG channels may be character?generated programming.

    (e) Use of Channels. – If a county or city no longer provides any programming for transmission over a PEG channel it has activated, the channel may be reprogrammed at the cable service provider’s discretion. A cable service provider must give at least a 60?day notice to a county or city before it reprograms a PEG channel that is not used. The cable service provider must restore a previously lost PEG channel within 120 days of the date a county or city certifies to the provider a schedule that demonstrates the channel will be used.

    (f) Operation of Channels. – A cable service provider is responsible only for the transmission of a PEG channel. The county or city to which the PEG channel is provided is responsible for the operation and content of the channel. A county or city that provides content to a cable service provider for transmission on a PEG channel is considered to have authorized the provider to transmit the content throughout the provider’s service area, regardless of whether part of the service area is outside the boundaries of the county or city.

    All programming on a PEG channel must be noncommercial. A cable service provider may not brand content on a PEG channel with its logo, name, or other identifying marks. A cable service provider is not required to transmit content on a PEG channel that is branded with the logo, name, or other identifying marks of another cable service provider.

    (g) Compliance. – A county or city that has not received PEG channel capacity as required by this section may bring an action to compel a cable service provider to comply with this section.

    Ҥ 66?358. Transmission of PEG channels.

    (a) Service. – A cable service provider operating under a State?issued franchise must transmit a PEG channel by one of the following methods:

    (1) Interconnection with another cable system operated in its service area. A cable service provider operating in the same service area as a provider under a State?issued franchise must interconnect its cable system on reasonable and competitively neutral terms with the other provider’s cable system within 120 days after it receives a written request for interconnection and may not refuse to interconnect on these terms. The terms include compensation for costs incurred in interconnecting. Interconnection may be accomplished by direct cable, microwave link, satellite, or another method of connection.

    (2) Transmission of the signal from each PEG channel programmer’s origination site, if the origination site is in the provider’s service area.

    (b) Signal. – All PEG channel programming provided to a cable service provider for transmission must meet the federal National Television System Committee standards or the Advanced Television Systems Committee Standards. If a PEG channel programmer complies with these standards and the cable service provider cannot transmit the programming without altering the transmission signal, then the cable service provider must do one of the following:

    (1) Alter the transmission signal to make it compatible with the technology or protocol the cable service provider uses to deliver its cable service.

    (2) Provide to the county or city the equipment needed to alter the transmission signal to make it compatible with the technology or protocol the cable service provider uses to deliver its cable service.

  13. Mat,
    Here’s some of the text of the 2006 Videoo Act. I’ll include a link to the rest of the law. It’s arcane stuff…so good luck.

    If URTV does close it’s doors on 4/30…(they may not, this could be another head fake, that they’re infamous for)….there needs to be a complete and thorough accounting of all invoices spent on equipment, and those equipment invoices must match up to equipment in the building.

    http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/Sessions/2005/Bills/House/HTML/H2047v6.html

    § 66?357. Availability and use of PEG channels.

  14. Well………., the recent changes to the comment box on MXprss no longer allows posting certain text…so I had to remove the text and just leave the link plus the bill #.

  15. @ Christopher: to my knowledge, Buncombe County does not provide funding to Asheville City Schools Channel——-the City of Asheville does.

    Buncombe County certifies two channels to the state: BCTV and URTV, not the education channel.

    …are there any documents that prove BC contributes to the funding of the Education channel? I can’t find it in Buncombe County’s annual report…..

  16. Alas, I shall attend no orientations anytime soon. My interest in this whole affair is rendered completely tangential by circumstances of geography.

  17. @ Jonathon: Funding for Asheville Education Television (commonly referred to as the Asheville City Schools Channel) is provided by both the Buncombe County Commissioners and by Asheville City Council. I haven’t seen official documents on that, but the front page of AET’s website claims they are supported by both institutions, and John Howell also detailed that support his report to Commissioners on Tuesday

    Buncombe County does not certify AET for PEG supplemental funds, but provides funding from the other subscriber fee money coming from the state according to Howell’s report.

  18. Thanks Christopher. Interesting that no one can seem to find out how BC “supports” AET…..or how much. Shouldn’t that be public record?

    Does AET have an annual report? Because if no one can find the “details” of this, John Howell didn’t actually “detail that support in his report….” then did he?

    Just saying, that things are adding up here….

  19. “Responding to claims that the county has received as much as $30 million in franchise fees that should have gone to URTV, Howell said he could only account for $1.4 million.”

    Keep in mind that those PEG fees were collected for years before a public access channel was created.

  20. The Buncombe County Management Agreement can be viewed on this page, scroll down to the URTV documents and the third full line contains a link to the county agreement. Problem for URTV is they have been grossly out of compliance with them management agreement since Jan. 2007. So they are the ones who are responsible for breaking a contract. They don’t have a legal leg to stand on. http://www.mountainx.com/xpressfiles/sections/buncombe

    URTV was eligible to receive an additional $530,000 had they increased their non-repetative programing to 52% …but they failed to do so. As a Board Member I offered to go to Raleigh to find out all particulars of this much rumored additional funding, but was told in no uncertain terms by Board Chairman (who only spoke on orders from the ED) to mind my own business…and I had no business pursuing this endeavor, that it was a spurious rumor. I have the emails with headers on this to prove my statement. But you can see right in the contract (section 10) there is a provision for this substantial increased funding by producing 52 % of non repetive programing on a regular basis.

  21. Illuminatti_01

    At the City’s Budget Meeting before tonights regular meeting the subject of additional funding for URTV came up.

    Councilman Davis “Council mem Davis, liaison to URTV: They’ve done very little of what we’ve asked them to do. Operation “pretty haphazard” …..Davis: Need audit of equipment ASAP. “

    Councilman Bothwell asks for audit of inventory , also.

    Admin Director Lauren Bradley: URTV gets 60% of city’s PEG funds, but those decreased sharply in recent yrs due to state law changes “#avlgov

  22. Reported from this afternoon’s(4/12/11) City Council Budget meeting:

    “Councilmen Jan Davis, liaison to URTV: “They’ve done very little of what we’ve asked them to do. Operation “pretty haphazard.”

    Need audit of equipment ASAP.”

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