Port Townsend City Council questions partnership for public access channels

Funds previously used to upgrade equipment

PORT TOWNSEND — The city has reached a tentative franchise agreement for cable television services, but a question about what to do with public access channels lingers.

The Port Townsend City Council had a first reading Tuesday night on a 10-year contract with WAVE Division III LLC.

The agreement, which council could approve following a second reading March 2, authorizes the company to install, construct, maintain and operate a cable TV system within city limits.

The previous agreement with WAVE also was for 10 years and was extended several times, City Attorney Heidi Greenwood said.

As part of the deal, the city receives about $88,000 annually based on 5 percent of gross revenues from cable TV services, the maximum allowed under federal law, Greenwood said.

The agreement also maintains a charge of 45 cents per subscriber per month that goes into a city account to provide support for a public, education and government access (PEG) stations at the Port Townsend School District office, 1610 Blaine St.

That amounts to about $8,000 per year, Greenwood said.

The local access is shown on channels 97 and 98, but the station isn’t functioning because a former manager retired, former City Council member Bob Gray said.

Gray, a former chair of the city’s PEG committee, spoke during public comment Tuesday night and encouraged the council to work with the school district to bring back local programming.

Content considered

“Five or six years ago, the City Council authorized $25,000 to purchase camera equipment for the student reporters to use when they were out in the field, filming for the public television in Port Townsend,” Gray said.

The station hasn’t produced content since December 2018, and it’s been broadcast on a loop since that time, he added.

Gray said the station was marketing upcoming broadcasts of City Council meetings, the library advisory board and the arts commission, among others, including community events such as the farmers market and the holiday tree lighting.

“It just tells you that isn’t not just people sitting at home watching this,” he said. “It’s an asset to the entire community, and it’s a huge asset for those students out there being reporters and using this equipment.”

The city hasn’t budgeted any capital expenditures for the PEG channels this year because the channels are inactive, Greenwood said.

Council member Pam Adams said the city wants to continue to work with the Port Townsend School District on the public access channels, but that district officials haven’t expressed much interest.

“It would take someone to oversee the students, teach the students, or make it a program that would actually work,” she said.

Port Townsend Superintendent John Polm, who sits on the city’s PEG committee, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

“Maybe we should be looking for another partner in the community who is interested in doing this,” council member Owen Rowe suggested. “Maybe [radio station] KPTZ, but they’ve got a lot of their hands as well.”

Rowe pointed to the council’s PEG committee, which has not had a chair since Gray, a two-term council member, left the body in December after choosing not to run for re-election.

“My concern is who is doing that reaching out? Who is regularly checking on this?” Rowe asked.

“We should at least request that the chair seat be filled.”

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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