County sets up new broadband contractIn light of news that it can expect $70 million dollars to begin its broadband project, the Lake County Board of Commissioners approved a new contract with National Public Broadband, effective Sept. 1.
In light of news that it can expect $70 million dollars to begin its broadband project, the Lake County Board of Commissioners approved a new contract with National Public Broadband, effective Sept. 1.
The contract will pay NPB $16,000 a month, plus expenses, for its work on the project, while the two sides negotiate a long-term deal over the next few months. Any expenses more than $250 will need to be approved by the board.
The county had suspended its contract with NPB until word on the grant and loan applications was received. The NPB fee had been $6,500 a month with other costs deferred. The funds the county would be paying out will be reimbursed through project funds.
Commissioners Rich Sve, Brad Jones, and Tom Clifford wondered about specific contract language and asked Lake County Attorney Russ Conrow to sit in on the meeting Tuesday. Commissioners Rick Goutermont and Paul Bergman, along with county coordinator Matt Huddleston, were in Atlanta for a broadband conference run by the Department of Agriculture to offer tips on using the money doled out for broadband.
Jones said he didn’t want to sign the one-page NPB contract if it locked the county into a larger deal. The contract language said the sides must negotiate in “good faith” on getting a long-term contract settled. The contract that went through Tuesday means NPB will continue to work on the project, which includes major paperwork such as environmental impact statements.
Lake County and eastern St. Louis County are expecting about $70 million in grants and loans to install broadband service to every home in the area now reachable by electrical service. A federal grant and loan was formally approved last month for improved voice, data, and video service via the Internet.
There is expected to be about $30,000 in costs accrued by the county for licenses and permits to get the network built. If the funding was to fall through and a contract was renewed with NPB, the county would be on the hook for paying the group the $16,000 a month.
“It is a very tight time frame [with] a tremendous workload ahead of us,” Goutermont said from Atlanta. He said Lake County appears to be in a much better situation compared to a lot of other entities who received funding because of NPB’s help. Last week, Bergman said there is plenty of oversight for the whole project because the county, the Rural Utilities Service, and those providing revenue bonds all have people overseeing the project.
Bergman highlighted three questions he’s been asked about the project, with the answer being “no” in each instance: Are county residents required to sign up for service? Will employees for the broadband service be considered county, or public, employees? Is the local tax payer attached to debt if the project isn’t viable?
Clifford said hard feelings are beginning to develop between the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Sunrise Nursing Home over the meals Sunrise has provided to the jail. The county plans to use a frozen food service and prepare meals in the jail through Fuzion Food Group. It is expected the savings will be $40,000 a year. Clifford suggested looking for another vendor until the Fuzion system is installed at the jail.
The board approved the appraisal of $150,000 for two 40-acre parcels by Split Rock State Park that will be sold to the Department of Natural Resources so Split Rock can expand its campground. Jones said Rep. David Dill worked hard to make sure the DNR paid for the land, which it wasn’t obligated to do. The county originally agreed to expand the boundary but the DNR didn’t have the funds to pay it despite the expansion’s inclusion in a legislative bill.
The board approved paying $981,303 to KGM Contractors for the Waterfront Drive project that was finished last fall. The project went over budget by $11,733 because of added utility work and storm sewer problems. The funds will be reimbursed through state-aid money. The city of Two Harbors is also expected to cover some of the expenses.