BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council voted to table a funding request from the area’s local access television channel to allow city officials more time to explore options regarding relocating the channel’s headquarters and the associated costs.
At its June 1 meeting, council considered a $5,000 request from Channel 3 – Buckhannon, which is operated by Rodney Irvin Jr., owner of Mountain State Video Imaging, to pay for moving Channel 3 from its current location on Wabash Avenue to the American Legion building on North Kanawha Street. That would fund installing a head-end fiber connection to the proposed new location.
City finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins suggested council consider whether it would be feasible for Channel 3 to instead move into a city facility that’s already outfitted with a fiber connection and closer to Optimum’s office.
“Channel 3 is part of our franchise agreement [with Optimum, formerly Suddenlink], and Channel 3 is moving from the location they’re at right now,” Jenkins said. “They need to move to a location that has a fiber connection, and the cost of that estimated fiber connection is about $5,000, so we were also trying to look at [other options], and we were wondering if council would possibly allow them to move into any other city facilities,” Jenkins said.
Irvin explained he only operates but does not own Channel 3.
“The interesting thing is that back when Suddenlink owned it and we originally [had to move], they would cover the cost of moving, and it’s something new now – it’s Optimum – and they’re not going to cover the cost,” Irvin said. “I’ve always considered it to be Buckhannon’s station; that’s why I branded it ‘Ch 3 – Buckhannon.’
Mayor Robbie Skinner said no fiber connection exists at the American Legion building.
“That’s the reason for the [requested] $5,000 investment,” Skinner said, “but some of our city facilities, like the Colonial Theatre or here, already have a fiber connection established.”
Irvin said Channel 3’s current location houses a small box that’s connected to the head-end at Optimum’s office on Fifth Street.
“That fiber connection has to go all the way from that box to the head-end for us to operate correctly, so basically what has to happen is, it’s got to be spliced into all the lines that they own that they’re able to splice into, so if we were to go into city hall or somewhere else, they would have to find a fiber line that they were able to splice into in order to connect,” Irvin said.
Irvin said the $5,000 it would take to move Channel 3 to the American Legion was more than he could afford.
“Five-thousand dollars is above what I’m able to do, and it’s part of the franchise, so I’m kind of at a point where Buckhannon kind of needs to decide how they want Channel 3 to go,” he said.
City recorder Randy Sanders asked why Channel 3 needed to move, and Irvin replied that the building was in dire need of repairs that couldn’t take place while occupied.
City attorney Tom O’Neill, senior director of governmental affairs for Optimum, said he could explain some logistics to council.
“This is a little tricky for me because I’m wearing two hats, but I think I can walk the line here and say this: The franchise requires the system to provide the channel,” O’Neill said. “It’s the responsibility of the franchising authority to deliver the signal to the head-end for broadcast. The company may have paid construction costs (for moving) in the past, but as a rule, they generally do not.”
“There would be construction costs no matter where the new broadcast location would be,” he added. “It’s not just having a fiber-to-the-building connection that you can plug into; it has to be a direct line that with special equipment that’s wired to the head-end.”
O’Neill elaborated on the relationship between the franchising authority – i.e., the City of Buckhannon, in this case – the local access channel and Optimum. He said the city has historically delegated its management of Channel 3 to Mountain State Video Imagining, LLC, in association with Upshur Computers LLC.
“The channel belongs to the city; it’s the city’s channel,” O’Neill said. “The city has historically used their company to operate the channel.”
Irvin said he only owns the production equipment necessary to operate Channel 3, but Sanders pointed out that Irvin can sell advertisements that appear on Channel 3. O’Neill said some cities opt to operate local access channels themselves, but there’s a special arrangement in Buckhannon.
“What happens in a number of communities that I work with is the city itself operates the channel – it owns the cameras and the broadcast equipment and all that goes along with that,” the city attorney said. “In this case, the city has offloaded that to Mountain State Video Imaging to handle all of that part of it, and in exchange for their work, they get to sell advertising in order to carry the operational costs of broadcasting the city’s channel.”
Councilman CJ Rylands and Skinner agreed Channel 3 is a valuable community asset.
“There are a lot of people who watch it,” Skinner said. “It carries our meetings, Strawberry Festival parades, the Veterans Day Parade, the Homecoming parades and community announcements. There’s a lot of people who receive a lot of information through that channel.”
Jenkins said she wanted to get an estimate of the cost of moving Channel 3 into the Colonial Arts Center’s basement.
“I’ll put a rush on that,” O’Neill replied.
Skinner assured residents Channel 3 would remain in operation.
“We’re not doing away with this channel,” the mayor said. “I don’t want anybody to think that. It’s valuable and we recognize that; we just have got to make it work for everybody and put them in the best possible position so they can be successful. If we’ve got to expend taxpayer money, it’s got to work for us, too.”