Access Tucson not switched off yet, despite reports
Reports of Access Tucson's death are greatly exaggerated.
For the second time in less than a month, Tucson media reported that the City Council eliminated funding for the public access organization.
An Arizona Daily Star story said the council voted Tuesday to "eliminate all funding for Access Tucson and the city's Cable 12 television channel." A secondary headline on the story says the "reduction would affect non-core city services like television." *
Sept. 9, an Associated Press story that was picked up by many local TV station websites reported "Access Tucson's budget was completely gutted and council members voted to sell its building in a move which could save Tucson more than $1 million dollars."
A Star story the same day implied the same thing, saying "Other cuts included in the $10 million: (...) Cutting Access Tucson's budget to zero to save $300,000."
Neither of those votes ever happened.
While the City Council is making many budget cuts, it's still working to determine the fate of both Access Tucson's public access function and Channel 12's cable broadcast of council meetings.
Cuts to both are still on the table, but not final. Both Access Tucson and Arizona Public Media, which runs KUAT-TV at the University of Arizona, have made proposals to continue televising council meetings.
Access has proposed working with high school students and professionals to continue offering council meetings on Channel 12, at a cost of $100,000 to $200,000.
AZPM has submitted proposals that range from $217,000 to $500,000 to continue Channel 12 services.
Channel 12's current budget of $900,000 would be eliminated under either scenario. Access Tucson, which has seen roughly a 60 percent budget cut over the last several years, receives $300,000 annually from the $1.38 monthly public, educational and government channel fees collected from Cox Communications customers. Those fees bring in approximately $5 million a year.
The continued incorrect reports are "stressful. It's a headache," said Lisa Horner, Access Tucson's executive director.
Local television news has also broadcast reports of the agency's demise, she said.
"At a time when our efforts should be focused on our survival, we're wasting time chasing down incorrect information as it multiplies throughout the community," Horner said.
"It's a sad day when it requires research to find out if your newspaper is correct," she said.
What did happen
Asked Wednesday if the reported vote had occurred, Councilman Paul Cunningham said "No, that's not what happened at all. "
"The council wants to wait to see what happens with the core tax (Proposition 400) vote. We should also give a serious look to the Access proposal" to broadcast council meetings, Cunningham said.
The council asked City Manager Mike Letcher to re-evaluate his proposal for a 15 percent cut to outside agencies. Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said that some agencies may need their funding more than others.
In the face of a possible $51 million deficit beginning July 1, the council also endorsed a 15 percent cut to non-core city services, the elimination of 60 positions (mainly through attrition) and looking at consolidating the Parks and Recreation Department with the Tucson Convention Center operation to save on administrative costs. The department of Information Technology may also have its functions merged with another city unit. IT Director Ann Strine is retiring.
The council — over the objection of Councilman Steve Kozachik — also approved raising the cost of a business license from $45 to $57 a year.
Proposition 400, which would add a half-cent to Tucson's sales tax, is projected to bring in $40 million if it passes. The revenue would be dedicated to public safety, parks and transportation — the core functions laid out in the city charter.
That would leave a $11 million hole to be filled, which is why the council is making cuts now. Tuesday's vote should lead to $8.3 million in savings next year.
"We're by no means in the clear," Cunningham said. "But passing the core tax would mean our long-term finanical stability is good, as long as we're careful, responsible stewards."
The repeated false reports of Access's demise "points to an even greater reason not to eliminate community media," Horner said.
"Independent media can hopefully get it right when the others get it wrong," she said. "Without those voices, there's a lack of checks and balances in a town with one daily paper. That's already showing a ripple effect throughout the city."
Update: Sometime during the early afternoon Wednesday, the Star updated their story to say the council "discussed eliminating all funding for Access Tucson and the city's Cable 12 television channel. The decision was postponed."
Although the story was corrected more than 12 hours after it was first posted, the only indication of the change is the addition of "updated" to the headline.
Disclosure: The folks at Access Tucson have been kind enough to let TucsonSentinel.com use a cubbyhole of an office for those times when we need to sit at a desk rather than be out in the community reporting. However, there is no connection between Access Tucson’s budget and that of TucsonSentinel.com.