Court conditionally approves broadband agreement

Grant County Commissioner Jim Hamsher at a previous meeting of the Grant County Court. Hamsher voted against approving an amended ordinance and intergovernmental agreement for a broadband coalition March 28, stating he still had questions about the documents.

The Grant County Court on March 28 conditionally approved the formation of a governing body and a cost-sharing formula for a new broadband internet network intended to improve the lives of residents in the county.

An amended ordinance and an intergovernmental agreement between the county, John Day and Seneca each passed by 2-1 votes, with Grant County Commissioner Hamsher opposed each time.

The ordinance was similar to one approved in November that creates an intergovernmental entity called the Grant County Digital Network Coalition, which will plan, own, manage, control and operate a broadband network that will start out with a fiber optic line running from Burns to John Day, with a provision for connections in Seneca. The effective date was changed to April 10 in the amended version, and it was passed as an emergency to take effect immediately. The amended ordinance also adopted the intergovernmental agreement.

County Judge Scott Myers received a draft of the intergovernmental agreement by email on March 26, two days before the court meeting, that was marked up by Grant County Attorney Ron Yockim.

Hamsher said he hadn’t seen the latest version until he was provided a printed copy just before the court meeting began. He said he had more questions on the IGA, including about cost-sharing and severability, and wanted to speak with Yockim before approving it.

Further details on how the coalition will be managed and how costs would be shared are provided in the intergovernmental agreement. The city of John Day will be the lead agency, and a five-member board will create bylaws, establish a mission and goals, oversee development and operations of the network and approve the coalition’s budget and capital purchases.

The county, John Day and Seneca each will choose one board member to represent them. Until two more possible entities join the coalition, the remaining two board members will be chosen at large by the three parties to the agreement.

The board will not have the power to commit taxing authority or general funds of the county, John Day or Seneca, or to expend funds in excess of the amount received from the members in a fiscal year. Grant County, John Day and Seneca can terminate participation in the agreement with 90 days notice.

According to a cost-sharing formula attached to the agreement, operating expenses will be shared among the three entities based on a 2017 certified population estimate. Grant County will be responsible for 60 percent of the operating costs, John Day 37 percent and Seneca 3 percent.

Hamsher told the court he needed more time to review the agreement. He also said he was concerned about the cost-sharing formula and how the county’s share of the network’s costs would be included in the county budget.

Hamsher also suggested that the county could save money by putting the network’s northern terminal facility in a county-owned building. He also was concerned about insufficient financial planning for the agreement and about hanging a main fiber optic cable on power poles across national forest land.

Commissioner Boyd Britton said he was comfortable with the agreement because Yockim had reviewed it. He said he had looked over the severability clause and felt the county could easily get out of the agreement if necessary.

A timely vote on the ordinance was needed to get the project started, Britton said. He suggested the court approve the intergovernmental agreement on the condition that Hamsher could talk more with Yockim about his concerns before final approval.

Hamsher said the attorneys for the county and John Day had months to look at the agreement, while the court had just received it, and the county had the lion’s share of the financial responsibility.

Hamsher said he wasn’t opposed to bringing broadband to Grant County, but he wasn’t ready to approve the ordinance and the intergovernmental agreement.

Myers said the ordinance changed little except the coalition’s starting date. Project planning couldn’t start until the documents were signed, he said.

“This project will affect Grant County citizens in a positive way,” Myers said.

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