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W.Va. public broadcasting cuts in works

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Public Broadcasting's executive director proposed more than $180,000 in spending cuts Wednesday, and warned that deeper budget reductions could be on the way.

Dennis Adkins unveiled the cuts as part of a "strategic plan" requested by Educational Broadcasting Authority board members.

"We can't be in a growth mode," Adkins said during a meeting in Charleston. "We have to buckle the hatches down until the economy improves."

Board members took no action on Adkins' proposals. Instead, they went behind closed doors to discuss a "personnel issue" -- presumably Adkins' job performance -- for about an hour. Adkins did not attend the closed session.

In June, board members ordered Adkins to propose a revised budget and strategic plan to keep Public Broadcasting solvent.

The agency had to relinquish $180,000 in unspent funds to the state this summer. The money was left over because several vacant employee positions went unfilled. Public Broadcasting was allowed to carry over unspent funds in previous years.

"They swooped in and took it [this year]," Adkins told board members.

In response, Adkins proposed the following cuts Wednesday:

* End the agency's membership in a lobbying group, the Association of American Public Television Stations -- a $26,000 savings.

* Switch funding for two employee positions. The change would save $65,500.

* Cancel subscriptions for Nielsen Ratings reports for the Charleston and Huntington markets, as well as an Arbitron radio report -- a combined $25,300 in savings. 

* Cease publication of "Pubcaster," a news and programming guide -- a $46,932 savings.

* Stop airing West Virginia University women's basketball games, which would save $23,000.

Adkins said the budget cuts wouldn't stop there.

The broadcasting agency faces an additional 7.5 percent spending reduction next year, part of statewide budget cuts ordered by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration.

"There's going to be some rough waters ahead," Adkins said.

Twenty percent of Public Broadcasting's staff is eligible to retire. To reduce costs, the agency would likely "consolidate" employee positions, spreading retired workers' duties among existing staff members, Adkins said.

"We're going to need pay raises for the extra duties they're taking on," he said.

Public Broadcasting has struggled financially in recent years because of a decline in corporate underwriting and fund-raising.

Also Wednesday, Adkins defended Public Broadcasting's response to the June 29 derecho storm that knocked out power to thousands of West Virginians.

At the time, some state officials raised questions about West Virginia Public Radio's decision to not provide extended coverage of the storm and recovery efforts statewide.

Adkins said Wednesday that news director Beth Vorhees was in Houston at a conference that week. Public Broadcasting also lost telephone and Internet service during the storm, he said.

He said the agency was taking steps -- meeting with governor's office employees and emergency management officials -- to ensure public radio was prepared for in-depth storm coverage in the future. 

"We'll be really up to speed the next time that comes along," Adkins said.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

 

 

 


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