County delays decision

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Television viewers will be able to tune in to the county's six subsidized channels at least through next spring, said Moffat County commissioners at Monday's commission meeting.

The battle over whether the county should pull the plug on the service that saps more than $80,000 a year from county coffers is a quandary for commissioners who are trying to balance final budget figures by Dec. 15 against the television-viewing public.

Moffat County is under contract until March 2004 to air stations that come from Denver such as CBS, NBC and PBS. Craig's local channel 27 that is broadcast from the local translators can be picked up through an alternate cable station if the board yanks the service later this year.

In the interim, county commissioners said they would approach city officials for help with paying for the service.

"I think it might be worth exploring if the city would be interested in co-sponsoring county TV," said Commissioner Darryl Steele. "For the number of people city-wise who use it, it may be worth it to them."

Craig City manager Jim Ferree said he would have to review the details before bringing the issue up with city councilors. He preliminarily thought most city residents already received cable television or satellite services.

No figures yet have been released over how many people watch the free stations, but Les Hutton, the operator for the Sand Rocks translator estimated that number to be at least 1,000 television viewers.

Hutton, who charges $3,416 a month fee for his service, offered to chop $12,000 a year to hedge county costs in the hopes of keep the county channels on.

To date this year, the county has paid Hutton's Radio $30,744 for maintenance and parts. Other costs include $23,724 for the right to translate from a UVTV from the Sand Rocks translator. Electricity costs are already $8,000 for this year.

Owner of Channel 27 Jerry Thompson said he'd chip in more rent money if it would save the channels and allow those people with only rabbit ear antennas to continue and receive his station in the future.

"We're not big bucks but we could pay $1,500 more a year," Thompson said.

But Thompson added slashing the service might make it impossible to do live broadcasts in the future, a feat that the station may someday plan to invest in. He also advised commissioners to determine the number of viewers before cutting the service. If the number of TV viewers is less than those paid for under the current contract, the county may realize a discount through the UVTV operator, he said.

Audrey Amaday, general manager of Channel 27, said the situation could be turned around if the TV station could earn more advertising dollars.

"We would have to charge for ads, which are already less expensive now than ones for the newspaper or the radio," she said. "People just have to realize that they can't keep getting everything for free."

Fund-raisers or asking viewers to contribute a nominal fee each month may be other alternatives to keep televisions on while keeping the county expenses down, Amaday added.

Craig resident Saed Tayyara agreed that county officials should investigate all their options before they keep or chop the service.

Yet it doesn't make sense to him that county officials are paying money to revive the area's economic development group but may cut local TV broadcasts that pose huge potential to beef up local economics.

"I'm all for cutting and balancing the budget but you have to keep an open mind," Tayyara said. "First you have to view it, evaluate it and then they have to contact all the people affected by it. That's a big factor. It could be a 1,000 people or it could be 500 people."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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