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WNEG-TV at UGA gets two months of funding
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The WNEG-TV station housed on the University of Georgia campus is still hanging on — at least for two more months.

The executive committee of the University of Georgia Research Foundation, which gave the $5 million grant to start up the station, decided to meet Tuesday to make an amendment to the budget, just days before fiscal year 2011 begins.

The committee approved a resolution that called for a $49,340 addition to fiscal 2010 to wrap up the station’s needs and requested $340,000 for fiscal 2011 to make it through the next two months.

“We met in the spring and weren’t convinced the timing was right to include funding; there were details and issues to sort out,” said David Lee, UGARF executive director. “We knew we were going to have to come back and approve the requested funding, and that’s what we’re doing now.”

The station has faced financial problems since construction started in the basement of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication last fall and opened its door in January. Station operators have proposed a variety of options, from maintaining status quo to shutting off programming and possibly even selling the station.

“We’re discussing the various options and how it should be structured. We hoped we would have it pulled together by now, but we need a few more months to conduct the review for a long-term decision,” said Tim Burgess, senior vice president for finance and administration. “This money keeps the station operating until we can figure it out. We’re considering anything and everything … and aren’t limiting the options to what we’ve talked about before.”

UGARF will meet at the end of August to determine the final fate of the station.

The fiscal 2010 operating expenses for WNEG was $1.8 million, and with a projected annual revenue of $800,000 — covering the $786,000 in staffing salaries — the station took on a $1 million deficit. Of the five-year, $5 million grant given in 2008 to buy the station and fund operations, about $183,000 remains uncommitted after Tuesday’s decision.

“The money that is being requested here still falls within the overall total amount that was anticipated by the UGARF board,” Lee said. “This is not a request for additional moneys.”

Despite ongoing struggles, it’s important to keep the project afloat, said Abit Massey, a committee member and longtime Gainesville resident.

“It’s good for UGA to have this exposure, to have another station that covers this rapidly growing area and for students to have this additional experience,” he said after the meeting. “Right now we have to hold on because the financial problems are universal. We’ve got to keep doing the best job.”

When decision time rolls around in August, the committee plans to look out for the educational mission of the university, said Tom Jackson, vice president for public affairs.

“There’s a wide variety of ways this station serves the university. We keep thinking the economy will turn around, but it isn’t,” he said. “It’s hard to predict if the future is going to be this same way three years from now.”

For station manager Michael Castengera, the only choice for now is to keep pushing forward.

“The key is to give enough time to explore the options,” he said.