An Open Letter to Princeton Community Television Supporters
Dear Princeton Community Television Supporters:
Princeton Community Television (PCTV), your local public access channel, is in jeopardy of closing after servicing the Princeton Community for three decades and needs your support.
During 2019, Mayor Liz Lempert announced that she was saving taxpayers money (about $200,000) by not forwarding a portion of the cable franchise fees received by the town to PCTV. This amounts to a mere 75 cents a month per resident but comes at the cost of PCTV having to cut one full-time employee and another part-time employee in 2019.
For the past three decades, every mayor, including Mayor Lempert, has released the cable franchise fees collected specifically for public broadcasting to PCTV so the station can continue the valued work they do for the Princeton community. In withholding these fees, Mayor Lempert has created a situation where PCTV may have to close its doors due to inadequate funding because cable franchise fees were withheld by the town.
Cable franchise fees, by law, give municipalities the option to use some or all fees collected to reduce property taxes. Only those households who subscribe to Verizon or Comcast pay a franchise fee as part of their monthly cable bill, however, all households pay taxes to the town. In 2019, the town of Princeton received $369,000 in cable franchise fees. PCTV received $232,000 in 2018 and $56,962 in 2019; what happened to the remainder of the franchise fees for 2019? PCTV has never been funded by taxpayer dollars and has not been part of the town’s operating budget. As such, PCTV has not, and does not, cost the taxpayer a single penny.
If cable franchise fees continue to be withheld in 2020, PCTV may be forced to layoff its two remaining full-time employees by the end of this year, and PCTV will no longer be able to offer media arts internships for college and high school students. Also, PCTV will
not be able to engage in extended partnerships with the Princeton business community and/or nonprofit organizations.
Closing PCTV would also be a great loss for local nonprofits. PCTV works extensively with Princeton-based nonprofits to produce videos and podcasts to bolster fundraising efforts for organizations such as the League of Women Voters, Princeton Public Schools, Witherspoon Jackson Development Corporation, the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, NJ-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA), numerous environmental funds, literacy groups and many more.
Mayor Lempert has recognized PCTV publicly as well-run, good financial stewards, one of the gems of this town, and a valuable nonprofit serving the Princeton community. It is undeniable that PCTV has become a valuable asset to the town of Princeton over the years because it has grown into a multi-platform media distribution organization. PCTV broadcasts and has the capacity to reach over 60,000 homes throughout the greater Princeton area. Beyond this cablecast, the station reaches a wider audience via its online broadcast on its website, Vimeo, Roku, Apple TV & Amazon FireStick. (PCTV is the
first community public access station to be selected by Amazon to be on FireStick.) Additionally, the Princetontv.org website averages 95,000 hits a month.
Mayor Lempert’s primary argument is that PCTV should fundraise to ensure its existence, claiming that the cable franchise fees are needed to help the municipal budget despite the large existing surplus in the municipal coffers.
PCTV has been fundraising for over two decades and raised $22,000 by the end of 2019 during its annual pledge drive. Monies raised through fundraising supplement the cable franchise fees, which make up 86 per cent of the PCTV budget. PCTV is committed to continuing our fundraising efforts. However, there needs to be a gradual transition period over the next few years where franchise fees received by the town and sent to PCTV are reduced as fundraising efforts are given time to become more fruitful.
Mayor Lempert has publicly stated that PCTV has $500,000 in reserves. This is simply not true, there are no reserves. The question to be asked is, where are the 2020 franchise fees? It should be noted that PCTV pays the town $18,000 a year in rent for its office in the old borough hall building where other municipal offices are housed.
Does Mayor Lempert truly believe that the permanent loss of four jobs at PCTV for the tiny gain of 75 cents per resident per month in tax saved is truly what this community wants and values?
Does Mayor Lempert think that the lack of transparency created by the municipality with the absence of live municipal video broadcasts or archive of public meetings which, in turn, incapacitates civic groups from broadcasting civic events, is the wave of the future in Princeton?
On April 1, 2019 Mayor Lempert and the town’s negotiating team left the negotiations table by unilaterally declaring an impasse in its negotiations for a successor contract with the PCTV negotiating team. We respectfully urge Mayor Lempert and the town’s negotiating team to reopen discussions with PCTV immediately.
There are solutions to every problem. We have creative solutions to discuss which will benefit Princeton residents, the town, the greater Princeton community and PCTV. Thank you for helping us raise awareness and for your continued support of the not for profit PCTV, which was created by the municipality itself and Princeton citizens.
Initial and current PCTV bylaws created by municipal officials and local residents stressed inclusion of all voices, not exclusion, and realized the importance of attracting individuals from outside the community, as well as within, given that individuals spend money at Princeton businesses when they come to tape shows broadcast to the Princeton
This is a call for action. After 30 years of supporting the Princeton community, we now ask for your unqualified support. Here are ways you can help:
Contact Mayor Liz Lempert (llempert∂princetonnj.gov, 609-924-5176) and Council President David Cohen (dcohen∂princetonnj.gov, 609-924-5176) to urge the reopening of discussions with PCTV to resolve the matter;
Donate to PCTV by going to www.princetontv.org;
Contact PCTV to ask about ways that you can help PCTV, info∂princetontv.org,
Make sure to “Like” and “Follow” PCTV on Facebook (Princeton Television) and Twitter (@TVPrinceton) for updates.
Princeton Community Television Board of Trustees
Friends of Princeton TV