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Cities want financial numbers on broadband project

By Richard Hanners

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on October 24, 2017 4:22PM

Jim Hamsher

Jim Hamsher

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Not so fast, two Grant County mayors are saying about their community’s role in a proposal for a government-subsidized fiber optic network to the area.

Canyon City Mayor Steve Fisher and Prairie City Mayor Jim Hamsher told the Eagle that more information with better financial figures was needed before their city councils could approve an agreement to join the project and assume uncertain financial obligations.

In a Sept. 26 memo to the John Day City Council, City Manager Nick Green wrote, “John Day, Canyon City and Seneca are prepared to adopt the Grant County Digital Network Coalition agreement and ordinance. We are waiting for a decision from Prairie City and from the County Court. Once these parties have reviewed the draft agreement, the final agreement and ordinance for adoption will be submitted to each governing body for ratification.”

“That’s not entirely accurate,” Fisher told the Eagle.

Fisher said the Canyon City City Council first saw a copy of the final agreement on Sept. 19, and it was sent on to their legal counsel for review. He said Green came to their city council meeting and was asked for more information.

“The agreement said Canyon City’s financial responsibility would be 9 1/2 percent – but 9 1/2 percent of what?” Fisher asked.

Fisher said Green told the council the figures had not been formulated yet. He also said Green had told him in an email that if Prairie City opted out of the coalition, then Prairie City’s share would be divided among other communities in the coalition.

Hamsher said Prairie City residents already benefit from an upgraded internet service provided by Oregon Telephone Corporation, and he wasn’t sure if they would want the city to be on the hook for another internet provider.

“Prairie City is in pretty good shape, with underground fiber optic cable,” he said.

According to the coalition agreement, Prairie City’s financial responsibility would be about 11 percent, Hamsher said, but he wanted to see a good estimate of the cost to run broadband service through Prairie City.

Hamsher said the Prairie City council had approved a survey of residents to gauge their interest in the proposed network. Due diligence for an investment of this kind should include some market analysis, he said.

Grant County Judge Scott Myers said he hadn’t seen any solid figures on costs to the county.

“I won’t bring it to the court until we have them,” he told the Eagle.

Myers noted that he had no reason to believe the project was not above board.

The state legislature awarded the city of John Day $1.82 million in funding to run a fiber cable 75 miles from Burns to John Day. Green has said he wants to see internet connectivity in the area go from second worst to second best in the state.

Green responded to the cities’ comments by noting that participation in the network coalition is voluntary.

“Each city and the county court has the option to connect, but their participation is not required for the project to move forward,” he said. “They need to deliberate and make the decision that is best for their community and constituents.”

He also noted that those cities that are prepared to adopt the agreement will have a seat on the board of directors and will participate in determining the network design, financing strategy and operating model.

“They will ultimately determine their respective costs by designing the network to meet their community’s needs and projected revenue,” he said.


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