HUDSON — City Council will address this coming week whether a property tax levy request to help pay for high-speed internet service for residents will appear on the fall ballot.
Council will have a workshop on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Following the workshop, Council will have a special meeting to give a third reading to, and likely vote on, legislation that would be the first step in placing a 2.7-mill, 10-year property tax levy request on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The levy, if approved, would support the issuance of $21 million in bonds to pay for constructing and installing a citywide fiber optic network.
If approved by voters, the levy would cost the owner of a home appraised at $200,000 another $192 per year, according to Jody Roberts, the city’s communications manager. Residents wishing to sign up for the service would have to pay an additional $30 per month.
Roberts said Council is having a special meeting because it will take 30 days for the legislation to take effect.
An effort by Councilwoman Beth Bigham (Ward 4) to table the legislation at Tuesday’s Council meeting failed when a motion to suspend the rules failed by a 4-3 vote.
Bigham questioned why she should pay for her neighbor’s internet service “when we have an opportunity” for a private company like Spectrum to offer a gigabit of service.
City Manager Jane Howington said that issue is a “policy question.”
Liz Murphy said the broadband proposal is a “win for virtually everybody.” She said she would see lower costs for internet service, as well as faster system speeds that can “handle multiple devices.”
Murphy said she and her husband would be “lost” without internet service, noting they both work from home a lot.
“We would love something faster, more efficient, less expensive,” said Murphy.
Murphy said younger people will be looking for fast, efficient internet service in the places where they want to live.
Offering the service draws in more tech-savvy businesses and improves property values, according to Murphy.
Resident Sara Norman said citizens are “overtaxed.”
“We just passed a new levy and we don’t want a new one,” said Norman.
Norman noted that a governmental entity is “seeking to have control over an important means of communication.”
"You do not need to be in charge of the communications between people,” said Norman. “That is not the role of government. We need to have a better accountability for how we’re going to enforce things because I’m very afraid to turn this job over to a city that cannot manage to enforce its zoning code.”
Resident Bob Bellin said there is “no competition here” for internet service, and added “it is unlikely that there will be any further competition.”
Roberts said the plan is for all residents to have access to the system in two years.
Bellin suggested the city ask the consultant for a cost estimate on a one-year rollout and that the city acquire price quotes from companies that would be willing to operate the city’s broadband service.
Steve Libby said the city’s proposal is offering “the same price or less for 10 times the bandwidth. To me, that’s a no-brainer.”
The city is offering 1 GB per second of internet speed. In contrast, Libby noted Spectrum is just now offering 100 MB per second.
Libby said residents who work full-time or part-time from home “appreciate” that the better bandwidth provides faster internet access.
Chris Thomas, director of government affairs for Spectrum, said his company will offer 1 GB service “very, very soon,” saying the cable giant already offers it in Youngstown, Cincinnati and Dayton. In those cities, he said the price is $105 per month.
Thomas said Spectrum has observed other communities around the country doing what Hudson is trying to do.
In Hudson, Thomas said 3 percent are using the 1 GB of service and 80 percent are using the 100 MB of service.
Thomas suggested the city hire an independent financial consultant to assess all the fiscal projections associated with the potential project, research failed projects, and find out why successful ventures are working.
Resident and business owner Pam Reed said reliable internet service is important to her and her husband.
“It is going to be good for Hudson to bring [broadband service] in,” said Reed. She praised the Velocity Broadband service she receives now at her business.
Councilman Alex Kelemen (Ward 3) said he was unable to attend the May 8 Council workshop, but was “dismayed” by the conversation on Velocity Broadband when he watched it on video. Kelemen said he was “really bothered” by comments made by City Manager Jane Howington when she stated, in effect, “if we can manage the city, we can manage the broadband and that people are distrustful.”
“I think it’s very dangerous to make that comment that says we’re being distrustful,” said Kelemen. “I think the words, ‘distrustful’ and ‘skeptical,’ are being conflated there, perhaps.”
Kelemen said he felt it was Council’s role to be skeptical and ask questions.
During the city manager’s report, Will Ersing, the city’s chief broadband officer, and Paul Leedham, chief innovation officer with the city, delivered a presentation on the history of Velocity Broadband and the city’s plans for residential service if the ballot issue is approved.
Ersing said the goal would be to have the first pilot customer online on Dec. 31 and to have all customers online in the next 24 months.
Leedham said the city’s fiber system “allows us to ramp up bandwidths far beyond what you could with any existing technologies that we have.”
Councilman Dennis Hanink (Ward 1) said he was “dismayed by the process by which we’ve arrived at this decision,” and suggested that the city set up the broadband system as a utility.
Mayor David Basil interjected and said the discussion was intended to ask staff technical questions rather than policy questions.
Hanink said he wanted to know what other options had been considered.
“I don’t think we have,” said Hanink. “Have we?”
Kelemen called the format of discussion where Council was supposed to ask only technical questions “bogus.”
“I don’t like this process,” said Kelemen, who was visibly frustrated. “I don’t think this [discussion] belongs in a meeting.”
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.