The Albemarle Board of Supervisors is interested in offering live video streams of county meetings, but only if a third-party is willing to help the county provide the service.
“I’m not keen on investing staff resources to do this,” said Supervisor Brad Sheffield.
The board opted in November 2011 to begin streaming live audio of its meetings, but declined at the time to pursue video.
Supervisor Liz Palmer asked for the idea to be revisited now that the board has four new members.
“For me, it’s a transparency issue,” Palmer said. “We have an obligation to try to find new ways to engage the public.”
Two years ago, staff estimated the annual operating costs to stream online meetings ranged between $4,700 and $13,920. One-time equipment costs were budgeted at between $8,765 and $18,778. Labor costs were not estimated at the time.
County spokeswoman Lee Catlin said the service could be provided cheaply if they decided to just use one camera, but that would not provide a quality product. She said that several cameras would be needed to fully capture meetings as they unfold in Lane Auditorium.
“The audience is facing one way, and the board is facing another, so to really capture what’s going on you’d probably have to cut between cameras,” Catlin said.
Catlin added someone would need to be paid to make sure the system is operating properly.
“It’s very hard to rely on volunteers for a service that needs to be done on a reliable and consistent basis,” Catlin said.
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd said this was the third time the issue has been discussed in as many years.
“The reason prior boards opted not to go with this was the labor intensity required,” Boyd said.
Last year, the county upgraded its audio streaming service to eliminate advertisements at a cost of about a $100 a month, according to Catlin.
Boyd said that system is flawed because of poor audio quality and frequent drop-outs.
“On this whole issue about personnel and working equipment, we haven’t figured out how to make this microphone system work,” Boyd said, referring to technical problems at Wednesday’s meeting. At one point, the board had to recess to allow the audio system to be reset.
The board directed staff to explore the possibility of partnerships with the two local television news stations, the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center or Charlottesville Tomorrow to provide the service.
County Attorney Larry Davis said cable provider Comcast could be a potential partner, but without an existing franchise agreement in place, there is no mechanism to obtain a source of revenue.
Charlottesville City Council meetings are televised on cable channel 10 and the city’s website. The service is paid for in part by a fee Comcast charges customers through a franchise agreement.
“TV10 is largely funded through [Public, Educational and Government] fees, the money that we receive as part of our franchise agreement with Comcast,” said Miriam Dickler, the city’s communications director.
Dickler said that funding only goes towards technology required to run the city’s three public access channels. Salaries for employees to staff them come out of the city’s operating budget.
Supervisor Ann Mallek pointed out that Louisa County, with a population of 33,153, offers video of its government meetings without having a cable agreement in place.
One supervisor just wanted to make sure the existing audio stream is improved.
“I really am very interested in making sure the quality of what we’re doing right now with the audio is good,” said Supervisor Diantha McKeel.