Broadband request not on the list of ARPA money recommended projects
Tue, 02/28/2023 - 1:42pm caleb
Broadband matching funds listed under ‘potential projects,’ but not enough money remains for everything on the list
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The county board, on Thursday, opted not to grant a request for hundreds of thousands of dollars of Crawford County’s American Rescue Plan Act money for a broadband internet endeavor.
On Thursday, February 9, during a regular meeting of the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, Tim Maylone, CEO of Cherry Capital Connection, an internet service provider based in Elk Rapids, said the company is working with the Crawford County Broadband Task Force on a project to bring high-speed internet to “rural areas” in northern Michigan, focusing on those without service or those who are “underserved.” Maylone said the project is called “Internet For All.”
Maylone said the federal government has allocated $1.8 billion for broadband in Michigan and the state is looking to move from 26th to 1st in available broadband.
“Very lofty goals and I applaud them for not shooting low,” Maylone said.
Maylone said the Internet For All project is looking to secure a portion of the $1.8 billion to fill gaps in coverage and facilitate competition in the area to offer more options and reduce prices.
“Our commitment to the region is to get every home connected on fiber,” Maylone said.
Maylone said the project is requesting one of two options – a $400,000 ARPA money contribution or a $600,000 ARPA money contribution from the county – along with a board resolution to go with the application for project funding.
Don Helinski, Forest Dunes Director of Operations, spoke during the February 9 presentation, saying that the current internet options available at Forest Dunes are insufficient.
Dan Bonamie, Beaver Creek Township Supervisor and one of those responsible for the recent creation of the Crawford County Broadband Task Force, said improved internet capability is necessary in the community, specifically mentioning business, telemedicine, and education. Bonamie said state maps showing internet coverage are inaccurate; they show uncovered areas as being covered.
Maylone said the “next step” would be a county board resolution and then creating language for an agreement, working with the Crawford County Broadband Task Force.
Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo said the county has a “list of priorities” for its remaining ARPA money, including a “big placeholder” for the Crawford County Commission on Aging senior center building project.
Commissioner Shelly Pinkelman (District #3) said she would like to refer the request for ARPA money to the county’s audit committee.
Compo said the county “should have an answer soon” with regard to the COA senior center numbers.
Chairwoman Laurie Jamison (District #1) said the board was “not in a position to make a decision” on February 9 because of needing more information and having three board members absent.
“Broadband – Cherry Capital Connection” was on the agenda for the county board’s regular meeting on Thursday, February 23, under “unfinished business.”
The board reported that the audit committee had not recommended allocation of ARPA money for the broadband project. The board discussed the possibility of providing a letter of support with no financial pledge, but opted not to do so.
The board of commissioners approved the audit committee’s American Rescue Plan Act project recommendations with a 5-0 vote (two members absent) during the February 23 meeting.
The recommended projects include the senior center, County Building maintenance/upgrades, a new animal control vehicle, Crawford County Sports Complex electrical work, and Portage Creek dam repairs. The board approved “up to $1 million” of county ARPA money for the senior center project during the February 23 meeting.
“During the regular meeting of the board of commissioners on February 9, 2023, after a request for monies from the county’s allocation of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, the board of commissioners requested the audit committee review the current status of ARPA funding. We were also asked to put together a list of potential projects using the ARPA dollars. The audit committee met on Friday, February 17, 2023 for that purpose,” according to a letter to the Crawford County Board of Commissioners from the audit committee.
“The county received almost $2,725,000 in ARPA funding. To date we have spent approximately $411,616. We have committed another $275,153 for the parking lot replacement project that will begin this spring,” according to the audit committee. “After significant discussion, the audit committee is recommending that up to $1 million be allocated to the Commission on Aging building project. When the audit committee first discussed potential projects, some of the key elements we wanted to consider included: broad range of community impact, assistance to vulnerable population, and core responsibility of county government. The senior center building project encompasses these elements.”
The “broadband matching funds” were listed in the ARPA funding sheet from the audit committee under “other potential projects.”
The “other potential projects” list also includes Sawmill Lofts contribution, Crawford County Sports Complex fields, and airport work. The sheet says there is not enough remaining money for all of the “other potential projects” if all of the “recommended projects” are completed.
“Too many projects, not enough money,” said Commissioner Jamie McClain (District #4).