$1 million broadband investment out of Kewaunee County budget — for now
KEWAUNEE – A proposed $1 million investment in expanding broadband access across the county was removed from the 2019 county budget that was approved at Tuesday night's County Board meeting, although the investment could return in the future.
Outside of that, the budget numbers remain almost the same as first presented by County Administrator Scott Feldt in September, and the proposed tax rate and levy remained the same.
As a result, the tax rate will fall from $7.30 to $7.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value from 2018 to '19, meaning the owner of a $100,000 property would see his or her county tax bill drop by $5, a 0.68-percent decrease.
But because of a 2.52-percent increase in equalized property values in the county, the levy will increase to $12,090,120, up $226,104 (1.9 percent) from $11,864,016 in 2018.
The total budget for 2019 checks in at $22,783,968, compared to $24,567,571 for 2018.
The $1 million broadband investment was scheduled to come from the county's Economic Development Fund, not from the tax levy. The fund comes from payments started last year of $500,000 for 10 years by Dominion Energy through an agreement between the company and the Town of Carlton after Dominion closed the Kewaunee Power Station.
The county Finance & Public Property Committee voted 3-2 in its Nov. 2 meeting to recommend removing the item from the budget because of a lack of specifics on how the money would be spent or on what it would be used.
Several supervisors and several members of the public who spoke at Tuesday's full board meeting said better broadband access is necessary to attract businesses and residents to, and retain businesses and residents in, the county.
"More than 60 percent (of people who took part in a countywide survey) said their internet is not sufficient for work even today," said Kim Larson, interim director of the Kewaunee County Economic Development Corp. "Many companies said they'd have trouble expanding their businesses because of the state of our internet connectivity."
"We need to realize the internet is used for more than just Netflix and Chill," said Ryan Hoffman of FTS Technology Group, an IT company based in Algoma."
Sup. Mary Ellen Dobbins quoted from a line from an article in County News, a publication of the National Association of Counties, on broadband access in rural areas that said, "Broadband is a utility, not just a nice thing to have."
Other speakers, though, said they wanted more information on plans for the expansion before committing the funds..
"I agree (internet access needs to be better," Frank Madzarevic of Montpelier said during the public comments. "… but we need a plan."
"I would be more comfortable if we waited a few months to address the question in depth," Sup. Charles Schmitt said in making a motion to remove the funding.
Sups. Lee Luft and Thomas Cretney said they believed the funding should remain in the budget to send a message, to broadband providers and businesses, that the county is serious about improving its connectivity.
Board Chairman Robert Weidner said (after stepping down from the chair to address the board) that he favors improving broadband access but wanted the supervisors to be comfortable with their votes.
"If we vote on it tonight, we want you to know what you're voting on," Board Chairman Robert Weidner said, after stepping down from the chair to address the board. "It's important that the board's leadership provides you with the information that you're voting with confidence."
The vote to remove the funding from the budget was 14-6 in favor, with Luft, Cretney, Dobbins, Kent Treml, Virginia Haske and John Mastalir voting "no." The money now goes back to the Economic Development Fund.
The $1 million could be re-inserted into the budget later, Corporation Counsel Jeffrey Wisnicky said in answer to a question during the discussion. However, that would require a two-thirds majority vote instead of the simple majority needed for the budget.
A task force is being formed to get more information on issues such as potential broadband providers, costs, access and availability across the county, partnerships with the providers, and grants that may be available.
Another amendment shifted $40,000 that was budgeted for the Economic Development Corp. to the Highway Department for winter maintenance. That amendment passed on an 11-9 vote.
The votes to pass the budget and levy after the amendments were 19-1 in favor, with Sup. Linda Teske voting "no" on each.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: $1 million broadband investment out of Kewaunee County budget — for now