Commissioners likely to join company in endeavor to expand fiber optics in unserved rural areas

YORK COUNTY – It’s very likely the York County Commissioners will be in favor of the county joining Glenwood Telecommunications in its effort to expand fiber optics and high-speed internet in unserved rural areas of the county.

They have been in discussions with the company for some time, as Glenwood has already received and utilized grant money to do such a project near McCool Junction (in the Sacks Lake area). For that grant application, the commissioners provided a letter of support.

This time around, for the next application, the county will likely be pledging funds as well.

They met with Glenwood representatives this past week, to discuss the matter.  Representing Glenwood were Jennifer Reiman, Allison Fritsche and Aaron Wescoat.

The project Glenwood will next pursue is to serve 53 locations in the Lushton area. Reiman said the project cost is estimated at approximately $1,400,000.

“The application for the grant needs to go in by July 8,” explained York County Commissioner Chairman Randy Obermier. “The strength, in getting the grant, is greater with a partnership with the county. Any recommendations of where the partnership would be best, money-wise?”

Reiman said their work with other counties has varied, but she felt the grant process would be more successful with a $400,000 contribution pledge from the county.

“With this one, it would come within about 1 ½ miles of Lushton,” Obermier said.

Reiman said with doing a project that is close to a town, there would be options with building into the town if the municipality was interested.

“All of these locations we are talking about now, in the rural area, are unserved. That strengthens the application,” Reiman said.

“I think we should ask to be part of it,” Obermier said.

“As far as the timeline, if we move forward and commit ARPA funds for it, those have to be committed by the end of the year, correct?” asked Commissioner Daniel Grotz.

The timing is key, as other counties are considering doing the same. Reiman said the Nebraska Association of County Officials (NACO) has been working on the national side of things in order for counties to use those funds – meanwhile, some counties are doing “swaps” with inheritance tax funds in order to participate.

Grotz asked about the company’s contribution, with Reiman saying there is their large in-kind contribution, as well as ongoing expenses that will have the company waiting about 10 years until they see a return on their investment.

Regarding the project near Sacks Lake, Wescoat said they will “hopefully be starting to connect people soon.”

“With other counties have you done service level agreements?” Grotz asked.

“Yes,” Reiman responded. “We do memos of understanding which holds Glenwood responsible to follow through with the grant guidelines, to ensure we follow through and if not, the county can get back its funds.”

“When you start looking at connecting 55 or so households, it provides greater stability in our county, I think this is a very positive project for York County,” Obermier said.

“Yes, unserved rural areas can now be connected throughout the world and do business right here in York County,” Reiman said.

Grotz said he was still interested in seeing some more information, with other commissioners agreeing, and they will revisit the matter next week. He also said he wanted the memo of understanding to be sent to the county attorney’s office, so they can take a look at it, before a decision is made.

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