Harlingen launching cable TV channel; dipping into $1 million stockpile

Harlingen launching cable TV channel; dipping into $1 million stockpile
Harlingen City Hall is pictured Thursday on Tyler Avenue on Jan. 7, 2022. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

HARLINGEN — The city’s dipping into a $1 million stockpile to launch its first cable television channel.

For about 15 years, Spectrum has paid the city more than $1 million to help it fund the channel, city officials said Wednesday.

Now, Mayor Norma Sepulveda’s planning to tap into the cache to launch the city’s first public educational and governmental access channel.

“This is part of my plan of engaging the community more,” she said. “The idea is to give the community true understanding of the projects underway and future projects. For 15 years, the city’s been receiving funds to operate a channel. That money’s given to the city to educate the community, so the city’s had an opportunity to have this PEG channel. So I have a pretty big budget.”

To fund the channel’s operation, the city will be paying the salaries of a three-member broadcast team along with Spectrum’s monthly $1,200 fee, City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said.

At City Hall, officials are planning to launch the channel during the first half of the upcoming year.

“It would be a channel to focus on government and education,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a better way to keep citizens informed.”

As part of its programming, the channel will broadcast city government meetings including those of the city commission along with information on the city’s projects and events.

“The TV channel will give an opportunity to people not on social media to tune in to city commission meetings and learn more about city departments,” Sepulveda said.

As part of the project, officials are dipping into the stockpiled money to buy equipment aimed at broadcasting, Assistant City Manager Josh Ramirez said.

“We’re going to be able to improve and update equipment,” Sepulveda said, adding the purchases will help upgrade old audio recorders used to broadcast commission meetings.

The city’s shopping list includes equipment that will allow the city to remotely broadcast, Ramirez said.

“We’re looking at what we’re going to need,” he said. “We’re going to have the ability to go to sites and be mobile.”

Now, officials are reviewing equipment prices, Ramirez said.

“We are getting quotes,” he stated. “We still don’t know the total equipment needed.”

To operate the station, officials are hiring a three-member crew, with salaries financed through the city’s $54.2 million general fund budget.

“They will be working to put together programming for the channel,” Gonzalez said.

Last week, Cristina Garcia took over as the city’s director of communications and media as she plans to lead the broadcast team.

She was hired at a salary of $79,000.

Garcia, who holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, previously served as Weslaco’s public information officer after working in public relations for the Harlingen school district, as a reporter for The Monitor in McAllen and as CBS4’s assignment manager.

Now, officials are searching for a media production coordinator, whose salary would start at $60,000, and a digital media administrator, who would start at $40,000, according to a city document.

Officials are counting on launching the station within 90 to 180 days, Garcia said.

“Depending on equipment availability and staffing, and if we can find the right staffing,” Ramirez said.