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Audit: WTVP bled nearly $870,000 in its challenging 2023 fiscal year

Tim Shelley

Public television station WTVP lost nearly $870,000 in its last fiscal year, with Peoria magazine's ballooning costs driving much of the deficit.

That's per a review of the station's delayed FY 2022-23 annual audited financial statement, which assessed station finances from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023. The audit was conducted by Peoria firm CliftonLarsonAllen and recently published on the station's website.

The station reported operating revenues of $4.7 million and operating expenditures of $5.2 million. Another $372,649 was lost from nonoperating activities, or one-time occurrences which can impact revenues or expenses. The audit characterizes that item only as "non-business related expenses."

Peoria magazine was acquired from Central Illinois Business Publishers in November 2021 for $100,000 following a vote by the station board's executive committee. That purchase also included the magazine's marquee events, including Forty Leaders Under 40, Local Legends, and Women of Influence. WTVP spent more than $1.2 million on the magazine in FY23, including $467,185 for magazine salary and payroll taxes, and $261,185 for printing costs. The audit put magazine revenues at $512,483.

By comparison, costs for programming, production, and broadcast operations combined came in at just under $2.1 million.

Current board chairman John Wieland has said in interviews that the station's purchase of the magazine wasn't a wise financial decision, and that WTVP's focus going forward will be on broadcast operations.

The station's board of directors moved last year to suspend the magazine's publication, lay off nine employees, and cut $1.5 million from the budget. Eleven members of that board abruptly resigned in January. Wieland and seven other board members came onboard at that same meeting, and an additional five members were announced in February.

CliftonLarsonAllen's audit says current management believes the station can meet its financial obligations over the next year, due to a combination of cost containment strategies and an infusion of money from unnamed outside donors through 2026. That $1.2 million contribution can be stretched to up to $3 million if needed to keep the station's budget balanced, the audit notes.

The station has about $2.1 million in readily-available assets that includes a $1.6 million endowment fund, and $877,392 in outstanding debts owed to PNC Bank. Those debts are secured by a mortgage and WTVP's business assets.

The audit said WTVP also had a $300,000 revolving secured line of credit from PNC secured by a second mortgage and a blanket lien on the station's assets. That line of credit has since been reduced to $200,000.

The CliftonLarsonAllen audit doesn't directly address the allegations of impropriety.

Five meetings' worth of executive committee minutes approved at the board of directors' February 2024 board meeting shed a few additional details on the station's previously reported financial issues.

Minutes from the board of directors' August 2023 meeting said a $100,000 line of credit added to WTVP's operating account was discovered in July. Then-president and CEO Lesley Matuszak told the board funds weren't borrowed from PNC, but former finance and human resources director Lin McLaughlin said the station did use it "for a few days," per the minutes.

Those minutes also state Matuszak believed she had the authority to liquidate some $320,000 worth of investments to keep the station solvent, but former board chairman Andrew Rand said only the board had that authority.

The executive committee also met in the early morning on Sept. 28. Matuszak resigned a day earlier, and died by suicide on the afternoon of Sept. 28. McLaughlin also no longer works at the station.

The station has since publicly blamed Matuszak and McLaughlin for improper spending. The station filed a police report with the Peoria Police Department. The Illinois Attorney General's Office has also confirmed an investigation into WTVP's finances.

Minutes from an Oct. 26 executive committee meeting mention a discussion on employee credit card expenditures and "certain reimbursements for other unauthorized expenses," without naming names. Income statement classifications from auctions and special events were also discussed.

CPB funds remain on hold pending audit

The audit also notes the ongoing uncertainty over the station's 2024 Community Service Grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The private, taxpayer-funded corporation is withholding WTVP's grant funds pending the outcome of an independent audit by its own inspector general that's slated to begin next month. The station missed a December deadline to submit its annual audited financial statement to the CPB.

WTVP received more than $928,000 from the CPB in FY23. The CPB wants to know if the station received excess grant funds in past years. Wieland has said there were issues with the separation of Peoria magazine advertising revenues and WTVP donations.

"The Corporation (WTVP) has taken steps to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations, but there is still uncertainty regarding the outcome of the audit," CLA notes in its audit statement. "The Corporation does not believe that any such disqualification or refund of funds will have a material effect on our financial position."

Founded in 1971, WTVP is the PBS station for the Peoria, Bloomington, and Galesburg areas.

WTVP is not affiliated with WCBU.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.