Broadband initiative will get another hearing
September 2, 2021
By TOM LAVENTURE
The county board 14-0 approved an initial resolution to consider revenue bond financing in support of a broadband infrastructure proposal from Bugtussel Wireless LLC. Board member Jamey Francis was not present.
The approval during the regular meeting followed a public hearing on the broadband bond topic. The board scheduled a second public hearing for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13 to hear more comments and to ask questions. A special meeting to consider action on the bond financing was scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26.
Mitchell Olson, director of network real estate for the Green Bay-based Bugtussle, was present to discuss the company that he described as a communication infrastructure developer for rural communities. They put in the “middle mile” of fiber optic cable along a route designed in part with county input, that is intended to attract third-party internet providers to branch off the main line they would not have found cost-effective to build on their own.
The project would install 108.3 miles of fiber optic cable to provide 20 gigabyte service to 844 residential and business locations in the county using a Gigabit Passive Optical Network service. The $7,040,107 cost would be financed through grants from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, Rural Digital Opportunity Project, public bonds, private equity and investment, he said.
The county is a guarantor for a municipal bond, but the company is paying for the financing and would ultimately be responsible for the costs through its assets, Olson said. Bugtussel would provide fiber optic equipment on nine of 16 cellular towers in Iron County, including two to be built in Springstead and Tyler Forks.
Board member questions included the lifespan of the financing possibly outlasting the technology. The onset of satellite technology works best for areas with no other service, while the fiber optic “hardwire” set up is preferable, Olson said.
Other board members were concerned that Bugtussel taking on several rural broadband projects simultaneously around the state could put the Iron County investment at risk if the projects fail as a collective. Olson said the company has grown considerably since 2012 and has nearly completed payments on the earliest bonds with projects in Fond du Lac and Adams counties.
Bugtussel currently has rural broadband projects going in 10 counties around Wisconsin, he said. The goal here is to link the data core in Madison to the northeast counties.
The board approved the first resolution after Olson confirmed with the company that the action did not obligate the county in any way until the second approval in October. Olson confirmed that the first resolution presented no obligations to the county and was a statutory requirement to provide a 30 day window prior to the second approval.
The board 5-8 denied the purchase cost of a $34,000 Kobata tractor and attachments to remove snow, cut grass and other work at the courthouse and satellite buildings. Those against said the work could be performed with smaller and less expensive equipment.
Board members William Thomas, Scott Erickson, Anne McComas, Joseph Pinardi and Opal Roberts voted for the purchase. Larry Youngs, Ken Saari, Brandon Snyder, Karl Krall, John Sendra, Tanner Hiller, Thomas Thompson Jr, and Kathleen Byrns voted against. Patrick Hanson did not vote and Francis was not present.
The finance committee had already approved the purchase in July. The machine was purchased prior to the decision to have the full board vote based on the amount of purchase.
The county staff will determine if the machine will be sold outright unless it can be returned to the dealer.
In other business, the county board approved:
—A $5,000 house sale at 804 Manganese Street.
—A petition to amend the zoning ordinance from Richard LaFortune.
—Providing a county email address for each county board member at $75 each annually. Board member Kathy Byrne voted against.
—A part-time social worker aid position for county Human Services.
—A Chairman’s Proclamation to declare Sept. 5-11 as suicide prevention week.
—An ordinance amending the county’s all-terrain vehicle route for the extension from the county line to County A.