OCEANSIDE — City Council OK’d the redesignation of $1 million to pay for full-time council aides and help fund KOCT Community Television at the budget workshop held on June 2.
The money was originally set aside to build Fire Station No. 8, but when matching grant funds were not secured, council OK’d the alternate one-time use of funds. “It wasn’t a loss, we were not going to get the building passed anyway,” Mayor Jim Wood said.
Councilman Jack Feller said he will be keeping a close eye on the decision to keep council aides full-time. Feller suggested council aides work reduced hours. He said he expects full-time aides who are paid $50,000 to put in 32 to 40 office hours per week and not be working from home. “Those aides better start working full-time,” Feller said. “I think we could have gone to 32 hours pretty easily.”
Mayor Wood said he utilizes his aide full time, but cannot speak for the other council members who may only need their aides part time. Wood added that the dollar amount to keep aides full time is not as significant as other more costly budget decisions and the loss of expected jobs due to 29 unfunded building projects. “We’re floundering trying to figure out how to save people’s jobs,” Wood said.
KOCT was funded $390,000 from the general fund, but was given notice the station will need to become self-sufficient within a year. This is a $110,000 budget cut to the station that was cut $55,000 last year. KOCT also receives $207,000 in community television PEG funds.
Council members said they value KOCT services, but consider the station an “extra,” not an essential. “As much as I like them (KOCT), we’re not going to lay off people,” Wood said.
“I don’t know what value to community taxpayers it has broadcasting high school football or basketball games, when you’re talking about eliminating police positions,” City Manager Peter Weiss said.
The city will meet with KOCT to determine what government programming continues on the station’s reduced budget. “Covering the Fourth of July parade or football games is not as high a priority as election coverage or city council meetings,” Weiss said.
The nonprofit station has already taken some measures to cut its costs by $110,00 and generate additional funds. The station plans to cut $45,000 in health benefits, will no longer hire contractors for productions, and will reduce the full-time workforce to eight employees by not replacing an employee who recently gave notice to leave. If needed, work hours for full-time and part-time employees may be reduced.
“It’s an established station,” Councilman Jack Feller said. “They need business people to help them make decisions. It’s in their hands, they need a board that can take them forward.”
The station has several board positions open. The selection of board members will be critical to the station’s future. “It’s the most critical years in our history,” Tom Reeser, KOCT executive director, said. “People with fundraising experience they can bring to us are important.”
There is a possibility of funding for full-time aides and KOCT operations will be OK’d next year if the economy improves, but no one is holding their breath.
Final funding decisions for this year will be decided by City Council on June 23.