The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

May 15, 2013

City commissioners argue over which entities get funding

ENID, Okla. — City-funded entities like the public access TV station PEGASYS may have to fight for their annual appropriations before a June 18 budget deadline.

During a brief discussion about programs Enid City Commission funds each year, City Manager Eric Benson said the panel “habitually” funds them without justification.

“We want to know from you what those priorities ought to be,” he told the commission Wednesday.

Ward 6 Commissioner David Vanhooser targeted PEGASYS for discussion. It operates three channels and broadcasts meetings of the school board and city commission, as well as other programs that are meant for the public interest.

“Is that something we really need to provide?” he asked.

The city budgets $185,000 each year for the operation, and the preliminary budget presented Wednesday continues that appropriation.

Vanhooser said he wants to approach the discretionary budget from a “non-emotional, business standpoint.”

“That television coverage is not worth $185,000,” Vanhooser said. “I would say that this year we issue a challenge to PEGASYS that they generate at least half of their own operating revenue by next year. Then within two years, they should become self-sufficient.”

Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell defended PEGASYS, noting its appropriation is relatively small when placed next to a nearly $44 million budget.

“That’s like half of 1 percent of our sales tax that comes in. This is, on the grand scheme of our budget, relatively small,” he said. “Public access is not there to make money. PEGASYS is, by its nature, not able to be self-sustaining and still be a public access station. That’s why it’s there.”

Vanhooser welcomed the argument and said he already had a debate prepared in case someone compared the size of the two figures — the appropriation and the budget.

“If we want to buy a million dollars or $2 million to build a couple more miles of trails, we do that $50,000 a whack. It’s not all at once,” Vanhooser said. “We will have to cut a little from a lot of areas.”

Benson said there are dozens of other organizations that never make the list of appropriations, simply because they’ve never been on the list.

“I believe that each one of these should be submitted to the same, cold, business evaluation. Why are we underwriting, basically, private enterprises here?” he said.

During further discussions on whether to fund the city pool and golf course, Mayor Bill Shewey spoke out in defense of local government subsidies.

“You could close everything in Enid and we might as well go for a 35,000 population city and be happy with it,” Shewey said. “One of the nice things that attract people to your city are some of the things you’re talking about.”

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