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Closed captioning costs city $10,000 per month

Thursday, June 11, 2015 by Sunny Sone

Austin’s switch to a 10-1 government is costing the city money in unexpected areas.

At a budget work session Wednesday, the city’s Support Services Department forecasted a $131,000 expenditure increase to fund ATXN, the city’s government access channel, as a result of the City Council committee restructuring. That number is part of the department’s overall $6.6 million expenditure change.

ATXN streams city meetings online and broadcasts meetings on radio and television. The increase in the number of Council committees since the shake-up means there are more meetings to be streamed or broadcast. The budget increase covers streaming costs, the KAZI radio contract, three contracts for the ATXN television channel and additional staff to cover the meetings.

The largest increase is in closed captioning services, which have gone from costing the city between $40,000 and $50,000 per year to about $10,000 per month, according to Chief Communications Director Doug Matthews. The budget forecast allocates about $83,000 for the increased closed captioning services. That number does not include any meetings not currently televised or any meetings projected to be televised.

Council Member Sheri Gallo said she would like to see all meetings televised. Currently, Council meetings and about two-thirds of board and commission meetings are televised.

“That’s a large step in making them more available to the public,” Gallo said.

Watching a broadcast could replace reading a meeting’s minutes online, which can be posted late or be difficult for citizens to find, Gallo said. Matthews brought up the additional closed captioning costs, to which Gallo said it was more important to get the meetings on television without closed captioning first.

Council members also raised the issue of additional staffing costs during the discussion. Support Services officials said they added 16 new staff to accommodate the increase in Council member offices, at a cost of $400,000. Matthews clarified that these new staffers differ from the 13 new Council staff positions, which will cost an estimated $1.1 million for the full year if Council chooses to fund the positions again this budget cycle.

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