Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Greenwood says no to Blandin Broadband grant

Decides to move forward with upgrading Internet service at town hall at taxpayer expense

Jodi Summit
Posted 6/20/19

GREENWOOD TWP— Greenwood Township won’t take part in the Blandin broadband grant following town board action here on June 11.

The grant would have provided the township with $5,000 for …

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Greenwood says no to Blandin Broadband grant

Decides to move forward with upgrading Internet service at town hall at taxpayer expense

Posted

GREENWOOD TWP— Greenwood Township won’t take part in the Blandin broadband grant following town board action here on June 11.

The grant would have provided the township with $5,000 for computer equipment, supplies, software, and networking. The township’s matching portion of the grant would include hosting and overseeing a public computer station at the town hall, which would be available during scheduled office hours for the township clerk. Both the town clerk and treasurer, who staff the office, appeared in favor of the proposal.

But town board members have been cool to the proposal, which was presented by Joanne Bassing, who chairs the area broadband committee that was established to work under Blandin’s auspices. The project was to include the purchase of a new computer and printer, as well as networking the public computer and the township’s office computers into the high-speed fiber which is already available at the town hall. The township currently uses Frontier DSL for Internet.

Initially, township officials balked at the cost of the computer included in the proposal, saying they would rather see a more economical model for public use rather than a model that cost about $3,200. Bassing said that Blandin preferred the purchase of a higher-end computer, to fully take advantage of the broadband capabilities. At their May meeting, the majority of the board did seem open to revising the project and moving forward, but tabled a decision until June.

At their June 11 meeting, DeLuca had plainly soured on the proposal. Without allowing any discussion or input from Bassing, he put a motion on the floor to deny the project. The motion failed 2-2, with Byron Beihoffer voting in favor, and Mike Ralston and Larry Tahija voting against.

At that point, DeLuca appeared to think the issue was over.

Treasurer Pam Rodgers reminded the board that the issue could still be considered, since the previous motion had failed.

“The township would benefit from this,” she said, although she added that she wished the township had been given more information on the grant guidelines, and what qualified for grant funding and what didn’t. Rodgers said the township could look at a proposal that included hard-wiring the office computers into the available fiber optics, getting a less expensive public computer, adding in a security system to oversee the public use area, and including the cost of a service agreement for the new computer.

But DeLuca insisted there was no need for a public computer at the town hall.

“Everybody I talk to,” he said, “nobody says we need a computer here.”

But others on the board disagreed.

“The goal is high-speed Internet for the public,” said Ralston.

Rodgers said that the available Frontier DSL service “goes up and down like a freaking yo-yo.” She added that many residents would come to the town hall to access reliable service when their home Internet was down or they couldn’t complete business just using their phones.

“The computer would be paid for by the grant,” reminded Ralston. “The other things would benefit us. They would pay for hard-wiring our office.”

But a motion by Ralston to seek a grant for a less expensive computer, hard-wiring the office, security cameras, maintenance contract, new router, and a dedicated printer failed, again on a 2-2 vote with DeLuca and Beihoffer voting against.

Grant proposals are set to be approved this month, so Greenwood was basically bowing out of the grant opportunity.

“It’s more important to have security cameras at the canisters,” said DeLuca.

Bassing then asked the town board to consider making a donation to help fund the feasibility study. She said that if the township refused to participate in the feasibility study, it would eliminate the township from future broadband projects.

A coalition of three areas are jointly funding the study and need to raise approximately $75,000, which will be matched one-to-one by Blandin.

“Our standard donation is $100,” said DeLuca.

Bassing said she was not sure what level of donation would be considered for inclusion in the study but said there was a possibility of finding other donations in the township to count towards the township’s participation.

John Bassing then spoke to the board about the feasibility study process. He said once the study is done, the group will apply for a Border to Border broadband grant, which could cover up to half the cost of installing broadband at local residences.

Bassing noted that fiber optic cable, which can give access to broadband-level Internet service, is already in place in many areas in the township. He pointed out that the fiber runs by several of the board member’s residences already, strung on telephone poles.

Beihoffer refuted John Bassing’s claim.

“That’s just conduit for future use,” Beihoffer said. “I never saw anyone putting new cable on the poles.”

Ralson noted the town hall had fiber optic cable brought in three years ago, and it still wasn’t connected.

Rodgers said the estimate to get the township connected and to have additional wifi hotspots installed was about $2,300.

The board did appear to agree on getting the town hall computers connected to the fiber.

A motion to have a new wifi hotspot installed at an estimated cost of $486, to give broadband access to users in the parking lot, passed unanimously. The town board tabled a motion to get the hard-wiring done, since they felt they needed more information on the cost, but said they would consider it at their July meeting.

New deputy clerk appointed

Chairman DeLuca expressed his concerns about deputy clerk Mary Richard, who had filled in for Clerk Sue Drobac during regular office hours the previous month. But he seemed surprised to hear that Richard had resigned from the position at the end of May.

Before hearing of the deputy clerk’s resignation, DeLuca refused a request from Drobac to have the deputy clerk attend an upcoming MAT-sponsored clerk training, though permission was granted to the clerk. A motion by DeLuca on the matter passed 4-0.

The town clerk has the authority to appoint their own deputy, who is then trained in to take over in cases where the clerk is not available.

Drobac informed the board that she had appointed John Bassing, who formerly has served on the town board and as town board chair, to the position.

“He has already been sworn in,” she told the board.

Ralston welcomed Bassing to the position. Rodgers said she would need to get Richard taken off the bank paperwork and Bassing put on.

“You should have told me,” she said to Drobac.

Ambulance subsidy

The town board has yet to approve the increase in the ambulance subsidy contract for 2020.

“Tower needs to get its accounting procedures accountable,” said Ralston.

Resident Lee Peterson said he felt that townships should share in the profitability of the ambulance transfers, since they were helping to fund the purchase of the ambulances.

“They got into the transfer business, it is a money maker,” he said. “In reality there was no reason to ask us to double our contribution.”

Ralston said the costs of new ambulances have doubled.

“They just can run on the same subsidy,” Ralston said.

Peterson said the primary reason the new ambulance was needed was for the transfers, not for responding to local emergency calls.

Other business

In other business the board:

 Did not award bids for the town hall paving project. The one quote that came in prior to the published deadline was much higher than expected. The township did receive one other quote but it came in after the deadline. The board will seek an opinion from their attorney about accepting the after-deadline quote.

 Approved the use of the pavilion for free summer yoga classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Heard a complaint from Beihoffer, who wanted to see a list of anyone who had keys to the town hall, and for what purpose. Drobac said the only person with such a key was Kathy Lovgren, who used it for the painting group, exercise group, and Vermilion Lake Association when they use the town hall. But Beihoffer didn’t accept Drobac’s explanation. He pointed to Pam Lundstrom, sitting in the audience, and accused her of having town hall keys “right now in your purse.”

Drobac told Beihoffer that Lundstrom had been given the key to use when she had rented the town hall and had returned it when she was done.

“I am sorry,” said Beihoffer to Lundstrom, “I made a mistake.”

Heard that Fire Department Training Officer Ed Borchardt is retiring.“He did a bang up job taking over as safety officer,” said Fire Chief Dave Fazio. Ralston told Borchardt he had done a great job.

‰ Gave the recreation board permission to do some clean-up in the wooded area behind the playground, and to plant one red maple tree to provide shade.

‰ Heard that a bocce ball league was being formed, with games being held on Mondays from 4-7 p.m. Volunteers are still needed to help organize the league. Community residents are invited to stop by and play.

 Heard that pothole repairs on Birch Point Extension will be completed soon.

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John Bassing

It is unfortunate that Greenwood could not accept the original proposal nor could they advance one put together by Treasurer Rodgers and Supervisor Ralston. These grant dollars ,however, will be doing good in our community at large. Hopefully the Board will see fit to contribute to the Broadband Feasibility Study which allows us to forward grant applications to the Mn Border to Border Grant Funds. These grants allow installers the extra they need to complete the task of connecting to the fiber just outside our backdoors. The monopoly Frontier is ,is far from adequate and broadband gives us options.

Thursday, June 20