By Kitty Merrill
Looking for consistency, town lawmakers this week ratified an agreement that would require the local public access station LTV to mirror the zero-based budgeting philosophy East Hampton Town departments must.
Town board members voted last Thursday night to enter into an agreement providing the station with a baseline grant of $550,000, and calling for LTV officials to make their case should they need to revise their budgets upward.
For years the public access station received a flat percentage of Cablevision franchise fees given to the town, about 80 percent. It's amounted to between $680,000 and $700,000 annually. Critics have complained that the money was turned over with little to no monitoring of how it is spent.
This year, however, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc met with LTV officials to craft a new agreement. Last week the full town board voted to set a base and adopt a three-year contract. Like any other town department, during the budget formulation process each fall, LTV will meet with elected officials to discuss and justify any need for more money.
In the past, Quigley explained during a work session on July 30, "at the end of each year, LTV was giving us audited financial statements that showed how they spent the money we gave them." Under the new agreement, the town will authorize any expenditures ahead of time, rather than simply view them after the fact. Board members will receive the end of year financial statements, too, allowing the town to monitor LTV's budget "front and end," Quigley explained.
Last Thursday night, a hearing on the proposal drew over a dozen speakers to the podium in support of the public access station. Board members, producers, talk show hosts and school officials spoke of LTV's value in providing government information, plus a creative outlet for both community members and children.
"You are seen and you are heard by hundreds of people," Bob Schaeffer told board members. Phyllis Italiano, who hosts her own talk show, said LTV has enabled her to become "the local, Italian version of Charlie Rose." A person could watch the array of programming provided by LTV and "You could get a Liberal Arts education, with no commercials," she offered.
Sue Ellen O'Connor from Springs School reported hundreds of students have participated in collaborative efforts with the station. "LTV is truly a partner in education," she said. Jim Shelly, a long-time LTV board member, lauded LTV's success as "The public voice for the citizens of East Hampton and about the citizens of East Hampton."
Just one community member offered an opposing view last Thursday night. Martin Drew complained of the prior administration's dissolution of the town's technical advisory committee and opined there are many projects in town deserving of money earmarked for LTV.