Lansing Pledges Money For Caroline Broadband Poles

Jul192013
broadband_lansing120The Town of Lansing pledged to cover up to $6,000 to help pay for eight poles needed to include the Town of Caroline in a county-wide project that will provide high speed Internet to more than 95% of unserved homes in rural areas of Tompkins County and Southern Cayuga County.  A $2.2 million state grant is paying for the project that has local Internet Service Provider (ISP) Clarity Connect building the infrastructure and providing the service in a couple of townships in Southern Cayuga County and most of the townships in Tompkins County.

"There is a possibility that all of the pledge will not be needed," Tompkins County Broadband Committee member and North Lansing resident Sheldon said, noting that new grants are being pursued to cover all or some of the cost.  "Clarity Connect is looking for a guarantee that they'll get paid for putting the poles in at this minimum price."

Parts of Newfield, the Town of Enfield and the Town of Caroline were removed from the project by the State when the grant was awarded because it was deemed it would be too costly to get service there.  Of those communities, a reengineering of the project will bring service to Enfield.  A 180 foot tower in Enfield will not only cover that Town, but will provide service to western Lansing, reducing the number of poles needed here from eight to two.  Service to Lansing will also be provided by poles in Dryden and other towns, including in Southern Cayuga County.  But eight additional poles are needed in Caroline.

"The Towns of Caroline and Enfield were cut out of the grant because it was deemed too expensive to serve those towns due to their topography," Sheldon explained.  "Since then Clarity Connect was able to reengineer the project with the result that most of Enfield will receive coverage.  The hardware (in Caroline) can come later, but if you don't have the poles you can't put the hardware up."

The impacted communities will also pay.  The tower in Enfield is tall enough that it will require a warning light to prevent aircraft from colliding with it.  In lieu of a contribution to the Caroline poles Enfield has agreed to pay for that light.  Caroline will pay a minimum of $6,000 and has pledged to pay the remainder needed if the $42,000 goal is not reached.

Clarity Connect ordered the poles with TCCOG's (Tompkins County Council Of Governments) assurance that the money would be raised among the other benefitted Tompkins County towns.   Before Lansing's pledge about $24,000 had been pledged, meaning Wednesday's vote brings the total to $30,000.  Pryor said she will be asking the other towns hat are part of the broadband project to commit to $6,000 when their next board meetings take place. 

Tompkins County Broadband Committee member and North Lansing resident Victor Rendano said that he and others decided to try to raise the money when they learned that the economy of scale realized by installing all the poles in the county at once would make the Caroline poles affordable and that if they are not installed now they would likely be too expensive to ever be erected.

Councilman Ed LaVigne asked Town Attorney Guy Krogh whether it is legal for a community to give tax dollars to another community.  Krogh said that the nature of the proposed broadband project is that the added capacity provides bandwidth that is shared among all the communities.  He said the pledge is legal because there is that tangible benefit to Lansing.

Rendano noted that the project is going forward even though the County has yet to see a dime from New York State which has pledged the $2.2 million grant to Tompkins County the project will provide broadband to county residents in between six months and a year because the provider is willing to construct it knowing the money will come.

"If they said we're not going to start the project until we got the two million from New York State we wouldn't have broadband in this community in the next six months," Rendano said.  "So it's a leap of good faith and good citizenship to try and support other communities so that broadband is provided throughout our region."

Rendano has put his money where his mouth is.  He and his wife Joyce pledged $5,000 which he said would be diverted to fund the Woodsedge elevator project if it is not needed for the Caroline poles.  Broadband Committee Chair and Lansing's representative on the County Legislature Pat Pryor has pledged $3,000, and local businessmen another few thousand.  Danby and Cayuga Heights each committed to a pledge of $6,000, and Rendano asked the Lansing board to commit to the same amount.

Pryor said the Broadband Committee and Clarity Connect is working on raising grant funding to cover all or part of the $42,000, in which case the money from the pledges will not be needed.  Sheldon said that grants are not certain, but the committee feels it has a good chance of obtaining a grant.  Donated money will be placed in a dedicated fund in Caroline, and returned to the donors if it is not needed.  Pryor said Clarity Connect will give the committee up to a year from July 15th to cover the total.

Councilwomen Ruth Hopkins noted the Town had already committed to pay between six and fifteen thousand dollars for six poles that are not needed in the new engineering plan, and that even if the Town ends up paying the $6,000 it will be paying less than already committed.

Lavigne said that it would be better to raise the money privately than to pledge taxpayer dollars.  He asked for a month to try to raise the money privately before pledging public money.  He asked whether the other towns could do the same and suggested Lansing wait to hear what they decide before pledging.

"I think it's a great idea to raise this money privately," he said.  "I think it would be better to float this to the community and see if they want to participate first.  I feel uncomfortable using taxpayers money for this when there might be other alternatives.  Taxpayer money should be a last resort, not a first resort.  This is a precious gift that they give us, and they don't do it on a voluntary basis.  We take it from them. We need to respect them and use this as a last resort, not jumpt to it quickly as a first resort."

But Pryor chided LaVigne to show leadership rather than waiting to see what other communities do.  A spat ensued, after which Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins and Katrina Binkewicz spoke in favor of pledging the money because of the tangible benefit to Lansing of the added bandwidth and service from poles in neighboring communities, and the funds already pledged that Lansing is off the hook for because of the reduced number of poles that the state grant now pays for.

The board voted 3-1 to pledge the money, with LaVigne dissenting.

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