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Educational Broadcasting Authority in good financial standing despite WV budget uncertainty

By CAITY COYNE

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Still surrounded by uncertainty from the state’s budget and despite the cuts proposed earlier in the year, the Educational Broadcasting Authority reported Wednesday that it currently is in good financial standing for this year.

Compared to last year, state appropriations for the EBA may be down, but membership and total revenue have risen as the EBA and West Virginia Public Broadcasting worked to cut costs wherever possible, Scott Finn, WVPB executive director, said Wednesday at the authority’s regular meeting. Total revenue for this fiscal year is up about $593,000 from last year’s numbers, with $9.1 million made compared to FY2016’s $8.5 million, according to EBA’s expense report.

“In January we decided to stop spending as much as we could to try and save up,” Finn said.

In order to “tighten up,” Finn said WVPB stopped filling positions vacated by retirees, put off repairs when possible and stopped purchasing the rights to new programming.

Total expenses for the EBA dropped by more than $1 million compared to last year, according to the expense report. Last year’s expenses totaled $9.4 million, and this year they came to about $8.3 million.

“This has not [affected WVPB’s product] yet, but it will,” Finn said. “We’ve been saving money on one hand, some of it we’ve saved on things we need to be saving on, other savings have kind of been eating into our seed corn by not making room for necessary repairs or having necessary staff or new programming. Eventually we’ll have to fix that.”

As an organization, WVPB is looking at all its options for raising money and attracting new members, while operating at maximum efficiency.

In April, Friends of WVPB announced a fundraising campaign aiming to raise $500,000 for the organization by July 1. Susan Hogan, chairwoman of Friends of WVPB, said via conference call there was only $166,000 left to raise.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Hogan said. “If the stars align, it’s going to happen.”

As WVPB plans for the future — and the potential budget cuts it may bring — the EBA unanimously approved recommending a bid from the Public Media Company to be brought on as a business and media strategy consultant to the WVPB Foundation. The consultation services would cost about $47,000, and the money for the services would come not from WVPB’s budget, but instead from a grant through the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, Finn said.

Due to mandates within the organization, the consultation must be approved and brought on by the WVPB Foundation instead of WVPB itself, as the former is a 501(c)3 organization.

“This is something I think [the EBA] needs to strongly get behind,” said Bill File, chair of the EBA. “We owe this to everyone in West Virginia, not just the Legislature, but our supporters and those who haven’t had the chance to be supporters yet.”

Finn said bringing in consultants was something the Legislature recommended to WVPB earlier to see how efficiently the organization was running. His goal is to help ensure all entities involved with WVPB — the board members, community members, legislators, etc. — are “all in alignment.”

“We need to have an honest conversation about what we should do, and — the harder part — what we should stop doing,” Finn said.

On Tuesday, a day before EBA’s meeting, Gov. Jim Justice sat at a press conference with three white boards to his right listing dozens of state programs that stand to be harmed under the budget passed by the legislature earlier this year, and how much money each could potentially lose. On one of the white boards, right under correctional facilities, West Virginia Public Broadcasting was written, with “$1 million” in parenthesis next to it.

“Needless to say, it’s a very good sign when [Justice] is including us in the list of things he doesn’t want to hurt when he’s talking about the need to pass a budget. That is to say, this is progress,” Finn said. “We’re in an OK [financial] situation right now [but] we’ll have to start making some hard decisions.”

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