Met Rec seeking public input on over-the-air TV priorities

Looking for 17,000 responses to new survey

[ by Mark Reaman ]

Facing some expensive and mandatory television delivery upgrades in the near future, the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District (Met Rec) board of directors has started a major initiative to gather public feedback on how best to spend its funds when it comes to over-the-air television. Given major cost increases associated with the television translator system, the board wants input from as many people as possible as soon as possible and is hoping everyone fills out a TV operations planning and outreach survey. Board decisions later this year could ultimately result in some adjustments to the translator system.

Met Rec district manager Hedda Peterson led a work session outlining the public input process on Wednesday, February 17. She said Met Rec was carefully considering how it delivers the television service moving forward and wanted constituent input.

Staff and a board subcommittee will analyze the input and come up with a draft strategy based in part on the survey results for another work session in April. More public input will then be taken and another work session is slated for May.

Peterson explained that the district operates 12 primary translator sites throughout its service area in Gunnison County. The majority of its over-the-air TV viewers, approximately 92 percent according to Met Rec board president Dave Clayton, reside in the corridor between Gunnison and Mt. Crested Butte. The remaining 8 percent of viewers are spread out in more rural parts of the county.

Peterson said that new national transmission standards are expected to be implemented in the next three to five years and would require expensive upgrades to the translator sites. That would be on top of current costs that include things like normal material costs, leases, utility expenses and labor costs. In 2021 the district budgeted about $256,000 out of its $677,000 budget for television services. Clayton said the next 10 years of television service is expected to cost about $1.7 million. The district has recently been trying to allocate more funds to other forms of recreation such as developed recreation amenities, outdoor recreation and collaborative efforts that make local recreation programs and opportunities more accessible.

“It is important to note that Met Rec has never been able to service everyone in its service area,” Peterson said. “The area we serve was established a long time ago and a lot has changed in terms of population and things like Internet and cell service availability. Now we want to take a really hard look at who is getting service and who isn’t and consider why that is. We also want to make sure the service is staying relevant to the community as a whole. So we are engaging in this public process and trying to determine future priorities.”

Mark Schumacher of Three Rivers Resort in Almont expressed concern over cable television in Almont. Peterson explained that Met Rec maintains a cable system in Almont because the terrain in that area does not accommodate the traditional transmission of an over-the-air signal.

Schumacher asked about the timeline for decisions involving potential cuts to television service and Peterson and board member Loren Ahonen said they could not provide an exact period when the board would make a decision regarding the future of television translators.

Ryan Romero said he lives east of Gunnison near Neversink and appreciates the television service provided by the Met Rec. “It is important to us out here,” he said. “Trails are a big deal but anything you can do to keep money going to television is appreciated.”

“I too appreciate the television service,” said Janice Welborn. “I also think equity should be a part of the decision making. If someone can’t afford the expense of an antenna to get the over-the-air service, I wonder if the district could award some little grants to help people here on tight budgets. It’s an idea to think about. Maybe also look at providing some Spanish language channels.”

Rick Odem suggested that it is a tough decision to take money out of a program that works and direct it to new purposes. “I’d encourage you to focus of what you are doing already. Television works. It is a great service. Taking on another function might not be the best priority.”

Schumacher admitted the district has some tough decisions to make. He suggested the district poll the property owners who pay the tax separately from the general population for their preferred direction with Met Rec. He indicated that he thought property owners would be less passionate about using some of the district’s money for things like trails. “It is important to consider who is paying the tax and who is using the amenities,” he said.

“We are looking at how to justify the increasing costs that come with television,” said Clayton. “Looking at the $1.7 million it appears the cost for the studio, which is necessary for any television, is $316,000. To serve the most populated area between Gunnison and Mt. Crested Butte is $630,000 and to the remaining rural area, the expense is $750,000. So we want input from everyone — TV users and non-TV users; people that pay taxes and people who don’t directly pay taxes; people that use trails and those that don’t use the trails.

“We want to hear what people think of the service we’re providing so we can make an informed decision,” Clayton continued. “I’d love to get 17,000 responses to this survey. If only 200 people respond we won’t be getting the information we need. We want the broadest response of what people want to do with the Met Rec funds.”

“There is a lot to be considered with the finances,” added Peterson. “We have a dual mission and we want to reflect what the community feels. We need to learn how best to share the funding and make sure the service is relevant to the community at large. It is a very dynamic mission to say the least.”

“I’m glad you’re trying to figure this out,” said Schumacher.

Peterson said the survey is now available to the public and she is encouraging everyone to fill it out. “We are looking for as comprehensive of a response as possible and are therefore hoping to hear from constituents that do and do not utilize the Met Rec television service.”

As part of the outreach process, a survey will be available online as well as physically and information on where to obtain them will be made through local newspapers, KBUT radio, Facebook and the Met Rec television channel guide.

The quickest way to find a survey is to go to www.gcmetrec.com. The plan is to then come up with a draft operations strategy for review at the April work session.

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