Balancing high maintenance costs with low use rate
Gunnison resident Scott Sherwood has watched television for free in Gunnison County since the 1990s.
He is among hundreds of community members who take advantage of television services provided by the Gunnison County Metropolitan Recreation District (Met Rec).
“I’ve been with it since the beginning,” Sherwood said. “Especially with COVID, this has been the way I get the news.”
Sherwood said he has relied on Met Rec’s television service to avoid cable TV costs, and it’s how he keeps up with current affairs since he doesn’t use a computer or cellphone at his Gunnison home.
It’s TV users like Sherwood who may feel changes at Met Rec most acutely as the special district juggles TV network maintenance costs with its other mission of providing recreational opportunities through arts, sports and cultural activities.
Costs of operating the county’s network of TV signal translator sites continue to increase while a 2020 viewership survey found only 316 households reporting use of Met Rec’s television services.
“That showed a relatively small fraction of our population utilize those services,” said Met Rec District Manager Hedda Peterson.
Peterson said it’s important to note that figure is a snapshot and may not represent the total number of users. That information remains unknown as anyone with an antenna can tune in.
Met Rec this year has allocated a total of $265,000 for television services in 2021 and estimates needing to budget approximately $1.5 million over five years to maintain the entire system and keep pace with changing transmission standards. That is a high cost for a service used by less than 500 households.
That’s an issue Met Rec leaders are looking at this year, with the intent to begin a public input process later this month to better understand what services are needed where.
Met Rec Board President David Clayton said of the 316 households that reported using television, nearly two thirds reside in the City of Gunnison. All Gunnison users rely on one translator site located on W Mountain.
“At the same time we have translators being utilized by less than a dozen households,” Clayton said.
Yet no matter how many people may be tuned into one translator site, the cost of new translators is the same, whether a site has two or six translators.
In that vein, Clayton said he hopes the public input process to be formalized later this month at the Jan. 20 board meeting will help to identify priorities for the district, especially when it comes to television.
“It’s going to be a process,” Clayton said.
Most recently, the district has worked to bring wi-fi hotspots to translator sites to allow engineers the ability to troubleshoot problems without having to make the trip to the site. That’s just one way the district aims to increase efficiency of the translator system while also curbing costs for television in coming years.
This year also marks the first time that Met Rec has a budget that balances recreation and television service with equal funding allocated to both tiers of its mission.
Continued improvements to translator sites, increased recreational access and enhanced recreation amenities are all on the docket for the coming year. Improvements to television services remain on the agenda for Met Rec as it continues its fiveyear plan to update the translator system.
The district has focused on improvements at hub translator sites, including the Gunnison Studio, W Mountain and on Monarch Pass this past year.
Next in line are the Jack’s Cabin, Crested Butte South and Mt. Crested Butte translator sites.
“We would then look towards improving the rural sites,” Peterson said. Sites in Sapinero, Powderhorn and Sargents would be less of a priority given the lower viewership in those areas.
“The funding to maintain a translator system as extensive as ours requires stable funding. And in order to get that we have to provide more services than just TV,” Peterson said.
In terms of recreation, Met Rec’s 2021 priorities focus on increasing recreational access, continuing to collaborate on trail maintenance and helping catalyze priority developed recreation amenities, such as field space.
Peterson said Met Rec is in the midst of the Field Space Planning Initiative, an effort to increase field-space valley-wide by working with partners to identify how we can help develop field space that best meets today’s needs as well as future demands.
The goal was identified as a part of the 2019 Recreation Needs Assessment, which found a lack of field space for local sports teams, community events and other youth and adult recreation programs.
As enrollment at the Gunnison Watershed School District is projected to increase as well as newly added sports such as lacrosse, the need for more fields will continue to grow, said Peterson.
Improving upon recreational access is another priority heading into 2021.
Met Rec has partnered with Gunnison and Crested Butte Nordic and the City of Gunnison to make youth and adult Nordic programming more affordable and accessible.
This year, Gunnison Nordic reported 60 kids have participated in the after school Nordic program and some of the adult programming has already filled-up with a waiting list in the works.
Met Rec also helped Gunnison Nordic acquire a new groomer for trails.
Those recreation efforts continue into the summer months, but with an emphasis on trails in the Gunnison Valley. Met Rec has since partnered with groups such as the County’s Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Committee to leverage funding for trail maintenance throughout the valley.
“For Met Rec to be successful we need to be meeting community needs beyond just television,” Peterson said.
(Kate Gienapp can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)