The Yellow Medicine County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to contribute $4 million in bonds to a broadband internet project for rural residents. The broadband service will be provided by Farmers Mutual through a state grant, also valued at $4 million. The board underscored that their contribution is not part of their levy (meaning that no tax dollars are involved in the project) and that it will be paid for entirely through bonds.
A presentation was given to the board by Kevin Beyer, a representative of Farmers Mutual. According to Beyer, similar projects have already been undertaken by Swift and Big Stone counties, and at the municipal level in Dawson. The grant application is due by September 11, and awarded sometime in November/ December. Beyer hopes that this project will help catalyze the development of broadband access in rural parts of the county.
Board members responded enthusiastically to the proposal. Ron Antony specifically lauded the project for providing high quality broadband service to rural customers, adding that he appreciated the incremental approach rather than attempting to provide full broadband coverage to the entire county.
The motion passed by the Board is only a promise to match funding if Farmers Mutual is successful in receiving the state grant. The Board expects the bond to be set at current rates and spread out over a 20-year period. Additionally, they estimate that it will cost roughly $45,000 to set up the bond.
Assuming the project moves forward, Farmers Mutual would begin plowing the fiber cable after the ground thaws in the spring. New customers would be brought online incrementally as the cable network expands, with full coverage expected by mid-2019.
In other news:
Ian Olson and Brooke Buysse, both with the SWCD, were introduced to the Board. Olson has a background in wildlife management and Buysse has a background in environmental science. They talked about their work combating aquatic invasive species, buffer implementation, and the permitting process for tiling.
The Board listened to the 2016 State Audit Report, which was presented by County Finance Director Michelle May. The audit, which is automatically commissioned when counties spend spend more than $700,000 in federal awards, showed a clean bill of health for county finances. While overall expenses rose in 2015 and 2016, May explained that this was due to construction expenses for roads and the new Justice Center, rather than rising operational costs. She expects the expense of revenue ratio to level off in the coming years as county financial commitments return to normal.
The Board approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for Heather Briggs for a dog kennel business. The Board amended the motion to accommodate 25 dogs, and the motion carried unanimously.
The Board tabled a motion to authorize CUP for David Eid to build a wind farm in the northwest corner of the county. The tabled CUP is different from a previously authorized CUP, which granted authorization for a wind farm in the southwest corner of the county. The Board expressed concerns over the proximity of the project to residents and an adjacent highway. Commissioners agreed to table the motion after hearing that the entity building the wind farm was reconsidering their decision to move the site. Gary Johnson recused himself from the vote because of financial links to the project.
The Board accepted a petition to widen and deepen a portion of the CD 9 ditch system. Next steps include commissioning an engineering report followed by a public hearing.
The Board unanimously approved a motion authorizing the Highway Department to replace the bridge over Highway 76 (two miles east of 75). Construction is expected to begin next year.