Port Orchard Council Meetings Will Be Online, but Not On the Air

By Chris Henry
Posted December 9, 2009 at 5:01 p.m. , updated December 9, 2009 at 5:04 p.m.

PORT ORCHARD — Starting in January, Port Orchard residents and others with high-speed Internet access will be able to watch city council meetings via computer.

The city is doing away with its cable broadcasts of meetings on Bremerton Kitsap Access Television. The switch was formalized Tuesday with approval of the city’s 2010 budget.

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola and BKAT public access manager Charlene Burnette had been negotiating a renewal of the contract the city has had since 2006, but were unable to reach an agreement. The council reallocated the $7,897 that had been earmarked for BKAT, with $7,000 to go toward downtown flower baskets and the remainder for DVD copies of meeting videos to be made available to the public.

But ditching BKAT was not simply a cost-saving measure. According to Coppola, Wave Broadband has more Internet customers than cable television customers within city limits. That doesn’t count the number who get Internet access through other companies. Satellite television subscribers don’t have cable access.

“Clearly, at least in my mind, we would be reaching far more people using the Web site rather than BKAT,” Councilman John Clauson said.

Clauson said posting videos of meetings on the Web site would allow people to watch at any hour of the day and to skip forward or back to issues of interest. Another advantage is that the city would have an online archive of meetings.

Councilman Fred Chang said he favors posting meetings to the Web site, but he did not want to remove access from cable customers. Chang was the lone council member voting against the ordinance. Councilman Jim Colebank, in an earlier work study discussion, echoed Chang’s position, but he was absent for Tuesday’s meeting.

Several council members, including Chang and Carolyn Powers, said ideally they’d like to have both formats. Clauson, head of the finance committee, said Wednesday that the council could reallocate money for BKAT broadcasts in the future.

But according to Burnette, they’d have to act quickly. Another client has requested the city’s broadcast slots, she said. Burnette said she is willing to hold their spot until Dec. 18. The council meets on Dec. 15 for a work study session.

Burnette said BKAT’s $278,000 budget would not be significantly hurt by the loss of Port Orchard’s business. The city’s contract is the smallest of all their clients. The city of Poulsbo, about the same size as Port Orchard, pays more than $19,000 per year. Port Orchard got a special deal on their contract when they first signed up, and there was no written provision for bringing them up to the going rate over time, Burnette said.

“What’s sad is the loss of the concept of regional television carrying all our government meetings,” Burnette said.

The likelihood that other cities and Kitsap County will eventually post meetings to their Web sites poses a threat to BKAT, “but not a serious threat,” Burnette said. People who don’t have or can’t afford Internet will continue to rely on cable television broadcasts, she said.

The Port Orchard council must still decide whether to rescind a 1 percent franchise fee increase established in 2005 and directly tied to the BKAT broadcasts. That issue would need to come before the council as an ordinance. Reducing the key would cost the city about $12,900.

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