HUDSON — While residents will not be asked to vote on a property tax levy to help pay for high-speed internet service, City Council has tasked a committee with developing a business plan for providing citywide fiber to the home. The city now offers high-speed internet service to businesses through its Velocity Broadband program.
Council on Tuesday rejected two pieces of legislation that would’ve placed a 2.7-mill, 10-year property tax issue request on an upcoming election ballot. The ballot issue would’ve asked citizens to approve issuing $21 million in bonds for installing a citywide fiber optic network and assessing a property tax levy to support the bonds.
Council member Beth Bigham (Ward 4) said that "rejecting the $21 million residential fiber project is the right decision for Hudson." She called the proposal "ill-conceived," and a "bad deal for taxpayers."
"Hudson citizens deserve city council to focus government funds on the most pressing needs of the community, not use those precious resources to attempt to provide what the private sector is already providing throughout our city," added Bigham. "Identifying a different funding source would not make the proposal deserving of additional consideration. After months of consideration and research, council should reject the proposal outright and refocus our efforts on other projects."
Council member Dr. J. Daniel Williams (At Large) said his constituents received calls from an organization encouraging them to call council members to say they opposed the broadband proposal.
"Unfortunately, a lot of the information that you get from this type of a call from a call center is not correct and I get very frustrated in that as we turn down these two items, this issue is dead and buried," said Williams. "It’s gone, and those people that are calling you may not have told you that tonight we were going to turn this down."
Council member Alex Kelemen (Ward 3) said he was not sure whether it was accurate to say the issue was "dead."
"It may be Dec. 4, but I’m feeling like it’s Halloween and this is Mike Myers and this thing is just going to keep coming back to life over and over and over again," said Kelemen. "I thought we were dead and done with it, but we’re still not. So, he fell out of the window tonight, but he’s coming back."
Council initially eyed placing the levy request on the November 2018 ballot, but postponed action after it decided in June to form a seven-member ad hoc committee to study and report on the issue.
After hearing the committee’s report, council decided it did not want to ask voters to weigh in on a property tax measure.
Council member Hal DeSaussure (At Large) said he’s received calls where people are "objecting to council raising a tax for this," and clarified that "council does not have the power to raise taxes without a vote of the people."
Asking committee to develop a business plan
Although council decided against putting a tax levy request on the ballot, members voted 4-2 to have the ad hoc committee work with city staff to develop a business plan for citywide fiber to the home and bring the proposal to council for its consideration by March 30. The motion was made by DeSaussure; Bigham and Kelemen cast the dissenting votes.
DeSaussure said he wanted the committee to "continue because they’ve been working already on developing this and I’d like to give them the charter to continue their work." He said committee members have expressed an interest in continuing their work and were turning to council for direction on their next step.
Kelemen asked that the issue be discussed at a workshop and added he felt council needed to determine the city’s goals in connection with providing high-speed internet service.
"The ad hoc committee was specifically formed to advise us on the vote that we’re taking tonight [on the tax levy request] and they’ve done that job," said Kelemen. "They’ve done a good job with that and if they’re going to go forward, then I think we need to discuss what we ultimately want to do with it. If they come up with a business plan, then what? Is that something we still want to do?"
Wooldredge said he wanted to move forward on having the committee craft the business plan.
"I think it’s perfectly timely and I’m kind of tired of kicking this thing around forever," stated Wooldredge, who added council would have "plenty of time to debate that and move forward or not."
Council member Casey Weinstein (Ward 2) said the feedback he’s received has "been overwhelmingly in support" of extending broadband service to residences. He said there are residents who would like to "opt in" to a broadband service.
"The reality is [fiber’s] not coming to this city," Weinstein said. "A logical next step [is] for the committee to look at different models for how we could roll this out in a way that the community would embrace and support."
Williams said while he backed allowing the committee to craft a business plan, he said he has not yet made a final decision on providing broadband service to residences.
"I think it’s worth looking at, but I am not willing to prejudge, I’m not willing to make a decision yet," said Williams. "Let’s get the business plan [and] see where it leads us."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.