Almost six years have passed since the voters of Routt County punched the mute button on complaints about the county's decaying broadcast television system. Now, the county is getting to pull the plug altogether.
The county commissioners announced Monday that they plan to leave funding for the system out of the 2001 budget.
Since sometime in the 1970s, the county has more or less maintained a system of seven signal repeaters to boost reception of broadcast television signals from Denver. But the advent of cable television in urban areas, and the availability of smaller, more affordable satellite dishes all over, have increasingly made the system anachronistic.
Faced with increasingly outdated equipment, and an estimated bill of $1 million to upgrade the system, the county commissioners went to the voters in November 1994 and asked if they wanted Routt County to issue bonds to pay for the improvements. The electorate voted "no" by a 2-to-1 margin.
The vote in favor of the measure was 2,081 with 4,130 voters opposed. Ever since, the commissioners have continued to budget $50,000 annually to keep the system operating. Of that total, $20,000 goes toward fees to bring the signal to Routt County. The balance isn't enough to cover the cost of improvements and upkeep.
"We've said all along the system is dying," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said Monday. "I think we're at that point."
The commissioners agreed on Monday to direct Ray Deichsel to leave the $50,000 for the county television system out of his 2001 budget. However, they will ask him to look into the costs associated with decommissioning the seven repeater sites. The locations are outside Hayden, on Moon Hill in north Routt, on Emerald Mountain west of Steamboat and Mount Werner to the east. The Oak Creek area is served by a repeater at the Edna site above Oak Creek Canyon and another outside Phippsburg covers that community and Yampa. The Toponas area is served by a repeater on King Mountain in extreme south Routt.
Commissioner Ben Beall said the money the county is investing in the television system is no longer cost effective.
"People are only getting a couple of channels and they're pretty weak," Beall said. "the last three or four months, we've only had four to five calls from people asking about county T.V. It's just too much money for too little service."
Beall added that any upgrade in equipment undertaken by the county at this point would probably need to be replaced with digital technology within two to three years.
Oak Creek resident Ed Warner was an electrical inspector for the county in the mid-1980s, the last time the county upgraded the repeater antennas.
"It's about time," Warner said when he was informed the commissioners plan to end the system. Warner helped the communications director back then get power to the repeater sites. His recollection is that the county spent more than $500,000 for the upgrade and he remembers thinking they could almost have purchased satellite dishes for everyone who needed them for that price.
Warner, who has cable television in Oak Creek, said he doesn't know anyone who stills tries to get by with broadcast TV and an antenna, except for a neighbor who only comes up for occasional summer weekends.
To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210, or e-mail: email@example.com