8/22/2019 2:01:00 PM Township citizens group to apply for Border to Border grant
People who live in Franconia Township are all about getting more fiber into their lives-- fiber optic that is.
About 50 citizens attending a townhall supervisor meeting August 13 were able to exit happy, after Franconia Township supervisors passed a resolution 3-0 expressing official support to applying for state Border to Border grants earmarked for upgrading Internet services.
An Internet citizens group represented at last week’s meeting by Angel Phillips Permaloff, Wade Vitalis, Dan Omdahl and Aaron Froberg--is working with a Minnesota telecommunications cooperative, CTC. The company has been around since 1950 and is motivated to add high capacity and high speed service territory covering both Chisago Lake Township and Franconia.
Franconia’s current sole Internet provider is Frontier Communications of MN. In a just-completed survey, township property owners registered little satisfaction with Frontier Internet. Even more disheartening is Frontier doesn’t seem to care, according to anecdotes shared during last week’s meeting.
Minnesota’s Border to Border Internet grants program application window closes September 13. Border-to-Border covers 40 percent of improving rural Internet. Franconia will not move forward with CTC on upgrades unless the grant is awarded.
The Town Board needed to express support on-the-record as of this month’s regular meeting. The vote doesn’t commit the township and no contracts are being signed at this time, stressed Board Chair Dennis Gustafson. He also said Chisago Lake Township and Franconia are working with an experienced attorney on the grant and not missing any financing legal steps.
Township Supervisor Kevin Rochel commented that high speed reliable Internet is not something that will benefit him personally, but he said for “...the good of the township” he could vote yes.
This is precisely the engine driving this movement--sharing costs to achieve something collectively that wouldn’t happen otherwise. The citizen group’s information presented on the Internet plan included a reference to the 1800s, when Franconia residents came together and constructed a depot required for a mail train stop.
The numbers Infrastructure above and below ground needed to extend fiber optic and high speed service will be over $3 million. Even with CTC’s contribution at $400,000 and the state grant, township property owners will see 15 years of debt service for a proposed $1.7 million bond.
According to citizen group spokesperson Aaron Froberg the proposed property tax pay-back plan was less expensive overall compared to other financing options, more efficient to administer and the best interest rate.
The township sells bonds and taxpayers pay them off at various amounts depending on agricultural or residential land valuations. Ag land with no home will contribute $1.43 per acre. Ag Homestead would be paying on average $10.18 per month or $122.20 annually. Residential Homestead costs would be an average $163.27 annually. Seasonal properties pay an estimated average $23.82 monthly or $88.79 annually. There was no rate provided for properties containing home-based businesses.
Wade Vitalis noted that for some future CTC customers the monthly Internet bill will go down, for vastly improved service And, the increase in the value of properties when fiber optic to the home is an option for homebuyers-- needs to be considered too.
As a result, however, the average township property tax rate is going to increase by seven percent, according to calculations presented.
And, not everybody at the meeting was happy about this. The fact that the value of their parcels will also increase if high speed Internet is available, didn’t impress the farmers, for instance. At an estimated $1.43 per acre extra, and owning hundreds of acres, one farmer clearly expressed his concern.
Phillips Permaloff, of the citizen action group, explained that realtors say there are issues with selling Franconia properties, because buyers feel the value of property is partly tied to being able to access technology. In the future, when farms are sub-divided the lots will sell for more.
Business persons in Franconia Township also spoke about needing reliable Internet. Pleasant Valley Orchard’s Jim Birkholz, said electronic processing for credit and debit cards is a time consuming system of costly “batching” numbers and he inputs the card information at his home, because he is unable to have the electronic connection at the orchard barn.
Pottery studio owner Guillermo Cuellar said he does a good portion of business on the web, and needs Internet service that doesn’t fail multiple times a day.
If the state grant is awarded, the work to extend fiber optic service to homes will get underway spring of 2020 with the project complete by fall of 2020.
Free meal and info The citizens group, in partnership with CTC, will have a presentation to help educate Franconia residents about the plan, and let people ask questions directly of company representatives. Township property owners are encouraged to come to a community dinner at Bloom Lake Barn-- Thursday, September 5 starting at 6 p.m.
In other business: the township will not pay for swing-away mailbox supports along road project zones. Mailbox stands needing replacement will be the resident’s expense.
~ New clerk Starsha Froberg will be paid the same wage former clerk Shirley Gustafson was paid.
~ Franconia’s Road & Bridge budget is overspent and Chair Gustafson suggested a special meeting to amend the 2020 levy. (Townships set their upcoming levy in March of the previous year; so any revision would affect what residents approved in March 2019.) The line item was set at $300,000 and it’s estimated to be closer to $500,000. Supervisors decided to hold-off on a special levy setting meeting until fall-- after this summer’s roadwork is completed.
Supervisors said they have until December to send in new numbers to the county auditor for tax statements.