The Cloquet City Council has approved a pair of actions in the hope of getting CAT-7 — the city’s cable access channel — back up and running.
The council approved requests Tuesday, Oct. 15, from the Cable Commission to convert the training room at City Hall to a dedicated studio space for the channel and returning station coordinator Eric Lipponen to full-time status for four weeks.
In a letter to the council, Cable Commission Chair Pete Radosevich said CAT-7 had no studio space since moving from the Cloquet Public Schools district office building earlier this year.
“The training room adjacent to the CAT-7 control room in City Hall is an ideal space for a studio,” Radosevich wrote. “Other city staff has been using that space sporadically, but CAT-7 needs a dedicated studio space and other areas are readily available for city staff to use.”
CAT-7 airs a variety of programming, including City Council meetings, local church services, Minnesota Wilderness hockey games and “Harry’s Gang,” a long-running political affairs show hosted by Radosevich.
There was some concern about the training room’s use by the Cloquet Police Department for operations briefing. Acting CPD Chief Derek Randall said the room had been used a few times since moving department headquarters over the summer, but the council chambers were secure enough for the department’s purposes if needed.
Interim City Administrator James Barclay said there was another room in the basement adjacent to the CPD evidence room that was big enough and would provide enough security with minimal renovations.
Lipponen was a full-time employee until the end of 2018, when his hours were reduced in an attempt to rein in personnel costs at the station. Instead of working a 40-hour week, Lipponen was reduced to 20 hours a week.
“CAT-7 has been broadcasting sporadically since it moved from the high school to City Hall in May,” Radosevich said. “Much work needs to be done to get the station operating at full capacity, from setting up and programming equipment to arranging studio space.”
CAT-7 is funded solely through franchise fees from Mediacom. The station receives a small portion of the money paid by local subscribers to Mediacom to fund the channel’s personnel, equipment and programming.
For the past several years, the channel received approximately $100,000 each year in franchise fees, but in 2015-18, the channel went over its revenue by a total of $160,000. In 2018 alone, the channel received $103,800 in franchise fees, but expenses outpaced revenue by $62,032, and personnel expenses accounted for approximately $110,000.
Interim City Administrator James Barclay said CAT-7 is well under its personnel budget for 2019. Returning Lipponen to full-time status for four weeks would result in an expense increase, but wouldn't cause the station to go over its 2019 projected revenue.
Radosevich said at the end of the four weeks, the Cable Commission would evaluate Lipponen’s progress and make a recommendation to the council.
At Large Councilor Lara Wilkinson attended the last Cable Commission meeting and said she believes there was a good plan in place to track Lipponen’s hours and progress to assess what will be needed at the end of the four-week period.
“I think they came up with a good solution,” Wilkinson said.