Kewaunee County Board Chairman Robert Weidner says he is organizing a broadband task force with an eye toward having a full-fledged discussion of internet access in the county in January or February.
Weidner outlined his plan during discussion Friday (Nov. 2) at the board’s Finance & Public Property Committee meeting.
The committee voted 3-2 against the county Personnel, Advisory & Legislative Committee recommendation that a $1 million allocation for broadband internet development be removed from the proposed 2019 budget.
But the matter will likely generate more discussion when the full County Board considers the budget Monday evening (Nov. 5).
Committee members did OK the Personnel committee’s recommendation that the county’s $40,000 investment in the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. be split, with $30,000 paid early in the year and up to $10,000 paid in the fourth quarter of 2019, and prorated to the amount of success KCEDC has had in raising its goal of $61,000 in private-sector contributions.
Finance & Public Property’s vote on broadband means, for now, the $1 million allocation will remain a part of the budget for now. The money comes from the economic development dollars that Dominion Resources agreed to pay as part of the settlement over the assessment of its decommissioned Kewaunee Power Station nuclear plant.
KCEDC’s interim executive director, Kim Larson, was among several business leaders who urged the committee to keep the $1 million allocation in the budget. She submitted the results of a poll taken Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 that showed a majority of businesses in the county are struggling with internet speed and consistency issues.
Jeff Kleiman of Nicolet National Bank, a member of the KCEDC board, told the committee that the bank has had issues with spotty internet service especially at its Luxemburg branch, to the point that the bank decided not to install a certain kind of cash machine because of the connectivity issues.
“Not having a strong internet hinders our prospects for economic development in Kewaunee County, and we certainly hope the County Board supports broadband and improvements to internet access,” Kleiman said.
County Administrator Scott Feldt has said the allocation does not commit the county to spending the money on a specific project or vendor.
Supervisor Lee Luft said it’s hoped the county would not need to spend that much in any case.
“What it does do is send a message to companies that we’ve heard about here this morning that are sitting on the fence: ‘Should I expand in Kewaunee County? Well, I don’t know, are they gonna do something, I mean, are they really committed to seeing this thing go forward?’” Luft said. “I think this sends a message that we are committed to do something. It does not commit us to spending the money, it does not commit us to any particular project, but it sends a really strong message to the community at large that we are prepared to move this forward.”
But Weidner countered the county budget is not supposed to be a message board: “It’s about what we intend to do realistically, we predict we’re going to do it, and we have a good solid basis to convince every board member or as many as we can that the direction we’re taking is good.”
Too much is still not known at this stage, Weidner said.
“We need to know more about the availability of grants, where they come from, the extent we think we can garner grants, dollar amounts,” he said, “looking at a mission statement, how much speed we need, capacity, coverage, who we’re going to partner with, what utility, who and why we partner with them.”
The kind of technology involved and the cost per customer are also key questions, Weidner said, adding that all of those answers aren’t going to come by Monday (Nov. 5), when the County Board votes on the budget.
“I still want a yes vote (on broadband expansion) at some point,” he said. “I’m asking for a postponement, and I would commit to January or February we would have this discussion in front of the full board.”
The County Board meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the county Administration Center, 810 Lincoln St., Kewaunee.
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