HUDSON — A majority of legislators are supporting requests made by the committee assessing residential broadband service, and the committee’s leader said her group will ask for council’s approval to hire a company to perform a new community survey on the topic.
City Council Aug. 21 voted 5-2 to support an expenditure of $10,000 for the Hudson Ad Hoc Committee for Community-Wide Fiber to enter a contract for a community survey, and for committee members to attend the Great Lakes Connect Conference from Sept. 24-27. Council also extended the deadline for the committee’s report to Dec. 15, at which time the committee’s work will be completed, according to the motion.
Council members Beth Bigham (Ward 4) and Alex Kelemen (Ward 3) voted against the motion.
“Absent my motion, there would not have been any public discussion, which I felt was important,” Kelemen said, adding he felt the proposed survey was a “bad investment.”
“What council really needs to know is what the acceptance of the service [will be] when it is launched 18-24 months from now,” added Kelemen.
Bigham said she is opposed to the new survey without answering “critical questions” about whether the city should be competing with the private sector by entering the residential internet business, and whether it should be taxing all property owners for a service that some citizens want.
Council had initially considered placing a 2.7-mill, 10-year property tax issue on the November ballot that, if passed, would have helped pay for the broadband infrastructure for residential service, but postponed that decision. Instead, the ad hoc committee was formed in June to assess the different options. An initial survey completed in April by the city (not the committee) was “not helpful to us as a resource for gauging the level of need for or interest in expanding the public broadband system to residents in Hudson,” according to ad hoc committee chairperson Christina Tait.
Tait says that once the committee selects the new survey provider, “we will approach council for authority (through the city manager or council as appropriate), to enter into a contract for services with that group.”
Hudson communications manager Jody Roberts said the motion approved 5-2 Aug. 21 does not appropriate funding yet and said the committee will return to council for approval of the contract and funding for the new survey, as well as funding for the cost of attending the conference. If council approves the expenditures, the money would come from the general fund, according to Roberts.
“It's really just a motion to support the direction the committee is going in,” said Roberts.
Councilman Bill Wooldredge (At Large) said he doesn’t want council to constrain the committee in terms of time or money.
“We want [the committee] to do the job and do it right,” said Wooldredge.
Wooldredge had proposed postponing action until Nov. 12 because the committee did not know when it would be able to finish the report nor did it know how much it would cost to perform a new survey and attend the conference. A vote did not occur on Wooldredge’s motion because no one seconded it.
Kelemen said he did not expect the committee to provide the “definitive tome” on broadband service for residents, but wanted them to “kick the tires” on the issue.
They “don’t have to give us the final word because we’re going to discuss it amongst ourselves and come up with a final word anyway,” Kelemen said. “I think personally, if we give them a date in the fall to give us some preliminary things, that might be helpful to us.”
Councilmember Dennis Hanink (Ward 1) also questioned whether another survey was needed but ultimately voted to support the expenditure.
“I think it’s more important to address the other tasks that they were given in terms of the viability of the system that we have and the options that we might have for broadband within the city,” said Hanink.
Councilmember Hal DeSaussure (At Large) said council will ultimately decide whether it wants another survey to be performed.
“I’m not even sure that that was part of the charge we gave to them,” said DeSaussure.
Kelemen said money has already been spent on a survey and feasibility study.
“I don’t know that our intent when we started this is that that we wanted to throw this much money in,” said Kelemen.
DeSaussure said he was fine leaving the $10,000 figure in the motion because he did not believe the committee would be able to conduct a survey for that amount.
“I think if they truly are going to go for a survey, they’re going to have to come back and ask for a specific allocation of funds for that,” said DeSaussure.
When council first reviewed the motion Aug. 14, the deadline for the final report was proposed to be changed from Oct. 2 to Nov. 12. DeSaussure on Aug. 21 suggested changing the deadline to Dec. 15, explaining he wanted “to put a date out there that gives them more than what they’re asking for because, in my experience, most people need more than they’re asking for when it comes to things like this.”
When council formed the committee in June, some members discussed having the report finished early enough so council could consider putting a tax issue request on the May 2019 ballot. Kelemen questioned whether changing the deadline to Dec. 15 would give council enough time to meet that timetable.
Mayor David Basil said giving the committee until Dec. 15 to issue a report would make it “tight” for council to decide on a May 2019 ballot issue, but noted it “doesn’t preclude” examining the possibility of a ballot issue in November 2019.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.