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Access Tucson to furlough workers for month of June

Citizen Staff Writer



To come in under budget, Tucson’s public access television channel will be closed for the month of June, with all employees forced to take unpaid leave, the group’s executive director said Saturday.

The three channels it oversees – 98, 99 and 120 on the Cox cable system and 74, 75 and 76 on the Comcast system – will continue broadcasts, but will use reruns and other programming that can be automated.

Access Tucson cut one administrative position and will reduce part-time workers’ hours and rescind their benefits, Executive Director Sam Behrend said Monday.

The moves are expected to save the group about $100,000, Behrend said.

“I am enough of a realist to know that next year will be bad for everybody,” he said. “We just have to go into survival mode now.”

Access Tucson employs 11 full-time workers and three part-timers, Behrend said.

The city allocated the group just less than $1 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, using revenues from its cable licensing agreement with Cox Communications, according to the budget. The city’s allocation makes up about 80 percent of Access Tucson’s funding, Behrend said.

It’s operating budget is $1.3 million, the balance coming from donations and fundraising.

Access Tucson absorbed a 10 percent city funding cut in September as part of an across-the-board cut to nongovernmental agencies that the city funds.

Behrend said the cuts led directly to the June shutdown, during which automated equipment will keep shows on-air, even without workers.

To keep Access Tucson from folding altogether, Behrend said he’s willing to accept dramatic change.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel for Access Tucson,” he said, referring to discussions about consolidation with Channel 12 and, eventually, construction of a community media center.

Behrend said his goal is to keep Access Tucson alive until then. “The private sector is not going to resuscitate a dead Access Tucson,” he said.

The channel had been mentioned in a Dec. 3 memo from City Manager Mike Hein as a place for possible savings.

A decision on further cuts will come from the City Council, following a recommendation from Hein, Deputy City Manager Mike Letcher said Monday.

The council will discuss spending for next fiscal year at its Feb. 27 meeting.

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