Mower board calls Gig Austin 'hard to justify'
AUSTIN — The Mower County Board on Tuesday rejected a Vision 2020 appeal to help fund a $32.9 million fiber data network that would bring high-speed Internet to Austin and some surrounding areas.
"We decided that at this time, we weren't going to make a commitment," Commissioner Polly Glynn said.
Board members said they rejected the Gig Austin proposal because of its centralized focus on Austin. Roughly 60 percent of the county's tax dollars come from agricultural properties.
"Since it is only going to reach out to the community of Austin and the Austin school district, that doesn't take into account the whole county," Glynn said. "To put down that many dollars and only have it available for Austin residents … basically, it's hard to justify."
She said that other needs, such as road and bridge maintenance, are of higher importance.
Commissioner Jerry Reinartz, who also serves on the county's finance committee, said that funding has fallen short to maintain Mower County's 400 miles of county roads and bridges. Repairs for a one-mile stretch of blacktop road cost about $800,000, he said. Repairing a bridge costs close to $2 million. The Mower County Board has discussed a potential half-cent sales tax to fill the gap for maintenance.
Reinartz said the commissioners also rejected the Gig Austin proposal because the funding request didn't seek a specified amount. Vision 2020 originally planned to have Gig Austin funded through private sources and grants.
"They haven't had any luck that way," Reinartz said. "Now, they're asking for government agencies to get involved."
Austin Utilities is interested in funding the project with a contribution of about $3 million. Gig Austin will include a third-party telecommunications company with contributions of $14.5 million. That would leave $15.5 million for other parties, such as the county and Austin School District, to provide.
While the Austin City Council spoke in favor of Gig Austin in September, no parties have formally committed to financing the project.
"There's too many questions to answer to be a funding source for this project," Reinartz said.
The door for Gig Austin hasn't been completely shut, Glynn said.
"If they get to a point where they know exactly what the breakdown is and what the cost is, they may bring it back," she said.