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PAC 8 board of directors President Dave Schiferl made an appeal to the Los Alamos County Council on Tuesday to not only forego a proposed $7,560 cut in funding for the public access station but to increase its allotment by $1,700.
“This really hurts,” Schiferl said. “PAC 8 has a budget of about $118K total. This is for everything: capital improvements, salary, benefits, everything. And about 40 percent of that comes from the county.”
The cut in funding is tied to a reduction in services the county is contracting from PAC 8, specifically, PAC 8’s cable broadcast and streaming of council and boards and commission meetings.
PAC 8 has been televising those meetings for more than 20 years and streaming for several.
“So PAC 8 did it all, did it well,” Schiferl said. “I am unaware of any complaints…We’ve tried to do cutting edge public access television here in Los Alamos. And I think we’ve succeeded in that.”
With the move into the new municipal building, the county decided to stream council and boards and commissions meetings via Granicus, a system offered free of charge by Daystar, the company that provides software for access to council meeting agendas. According to Public Information Officer Julie Habiger, having both county staff and PAC 8 staff monitoring broadcasts in the control room “complicated things.”
The county also made the decision to move audiovisual services from the media services division to the information management division. At that time, discussions began about possibly filling the position vacated by David Griggs’ retirement with a full time audiovisual person who could meet the increased need for coverage of boards and commissions meetings and assist with such things as computer presentations, audiovisual conferencing and filming training videos.
“So we decided in May that it made the best sense to have that person do everything internally. And that’s what we have hired for,” Habiger said.
The costs associated with the reduced services are based on having PAC 8 personnel film two council sessions a month, plus some boards and commissions meetings and special sessions, with two hours per meeting to compress the videos for upload. At a rate of $40 per hour, the change decreases the county’s contractual obligation to PAC 8 from $49,500 to $43,740.
Schiferl contends that the county will be paying more money for the same level of service, but it appears as though providing services in house will actually save the county money, since Granicus streaming is free and the county is redirecting an existent full time position to cover all the meetings.
When the decision was made to take the services in house, council leadership asked Habiger to inquire whether PAC 8 would allow the county to log into their system in order to continue providing cable broadcasts. PAC 8 Executive Director Jean Gindreau responded in a one-on-one conversation and in a follow-up email that PAC 8 would be amenable to that.
However, the PAC 8 board of directors has since decided against allowing the county login privileges.
“The idea that we would have anybody from the outside log in, and, even worse, somebody who hasn’t even passed the county’s probationary period, means that we alone should determine our security,” Schiferl said. “And we alone can do that, because we can’t trust anybody else to think it through as thoroughly as it must be thought out.”
The $1,700 increase the board is requesting would pay for one person to attend council meetings to log and log out of the PAC 8 system, as well as cover retirement benefits for Gindreau, who volunteered to forego those at least two years ago in order to balance the budget.
Schiferl noted that if Gindreau left, the station would not be able to replace her for the same salary, which is far below comparable positions with the county, LAPS or Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Schiferl also cited security problems in the PAC 8 system that needed to be addressed.
The county administrator’s office has instructed Habiger to proceed with the proposed reduction in contractual services. Without PAC 8’s permission to log in, council meetings will no longer be broadcast on cable television or PAC 8 streaming. However, residents can watch council meetings via streaming from the county’s website, at http://losalamos.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx. The change goes into effect July 1 unless a negotiated settlement is reached.
“The county has always been very supportive of us, and we’re very happy for that fact,” Gindreau said. “We just don’t like it when they take money and work away from us. That really hurts us. We’re really close to the point that we’re not going to survive. And I’d just hate to see PAC 8 disappear.”
When asked if grant funding was available, Gindreau replied that the nonprofit has received grant funding in the past and has just applied for another one.
The media center also brings in revenue by offering video production facilities and equipment rentals at affordable rates, transferring VHS, reel-to-reel film, record albums, slides and photographs for customers and producing local ads for the Reel Deal Theater. It also raises money through its annual fundraiser, an online auction in December.
Schiferl and Gindreau stressed other services PAC 8 provides for the community: recording and/or broadcasting events such as Los Alamos Public School board meetings, high school graduation ceremonies, Dance Arts Los Alamos performances and church services. It also records lecture series for the Los Alamos Historical Society and others and partners with community organizations such as the Pajarito Environmental Education Center and the Betty Ehart Senior Center.
“Without PAC 8, many community organizations would no longer be able to make videos of their activities,” Schiferl wrote in a letter to Habiger.
PAC 8 also provides summer youth classes in video production.
“We can be really proud that we’ve had a couple of kids who came in kind of troubled, the kind of kids that you wouldn’t be at all surprised if they ended up on the wrong side of the law, who found themselves at PAC 8, and have had, for over a decade now, successful careers in video, television, movies, film – all these related arts,” Schiferl said.
PAC 8 is changing its name to “PAC 8 Community Media Center” to emphasize the fact that the public is welcome to come in and use the facilities. It is currently launching a new website, pac8cmc.com.
Habiger said that she is not unsympathetic to PAC 8’s financial situation, but that the county must base what it pays contractors on services rendered.
“So, while I appreciate the board’s comments about compensation, salary, retirement funds, the county can really only procure services for an identified county need or project, not pay funds for use by a contractor to fund a salary or a retirement plan. I’m not in a position to do that,” Habiger said.
“That is an operational issue at PAC 8 that I appreciate, but I am looking for a specific kind of contract service that has a declared value. And when I no longer need that service, I decreased the amount of that service. And I tried to leave the other things alone, that were already in place for PAC 8 to continue to operate.”