Broadband Coordinator Position Advanced

The next look at ARPA projects takes place at the Door County Finance Committee Wednesday, Feb. 16

What’s considered a critical first step in the overall coordination of a Door County broadband, fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) initiative called FiberNet Door County was taken Tuesday when the Door County Board of Supervisors allocated money for a broadband coordinator position.

The resolution allocated $152,000 for 2022, which includes $111,129 for the new hire’s salary and benefits, and the remainder reserved for the position’s start-up costs. The coordinator’s primary responsibilities will be the overall coordination of the FiberNet initiative as laid out in the broadband assessment report issued late last year. 

The money will come out of the $5,374,185 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, which can be spent on a wide range of government operations. The total allocation requested for the broadband initiative is $1 million over three years.

The broadband request is one of nine projects being proposed. The supervisors spent more than four hours hearing the merits of those projects and commenting, but they made no decisions beyond the broadband coordinator position.

About three hours into the meeting, when supervisors were starting to leave, Vice Chair Susan Kohout, who was filling in for the absent Chair Dave Lienau, called for the vote before the discussion was completed. 

“We need 15 people for a two-thirds-majority vote,” as was required for passage to obligate any of the ARPA funds, Kohout said.

The vote passed 16-1, with Supervisor Ken Fisher dissenting. Afterward, Fisher said he was “on board” with the coordinator position but still had questions that hadn’t been answered. 

“To be told we have to do this right now and get the vote done – that’s not the way we do business here or have ever done it before,” he said. 

The supervisors did not obligate any other ARPA funds on Tuesday, and beyond the broadband initiative, they did not indicate which of the other projects they prefer.

One exception, however, was the sober-living facility. Several supervisors said they would support the request of Joe Krebsbach, director of Door County Health and Human Services, for $575,000 to buy an existing building within the City of Sturgeon Bay to provide transitional living for those returning to the county from residential treatment programs.

Several supervisors indicated they did not want long-term expenses to evolve from the one-time expenditures. There also isn’t a procedure in place to offer grant dollars to other nonprofits that have requested funds.

“All the other rules still apply for contracting and bidding,” said Grant Thomas, corporation counsel. “In the realm of nonprofits, we would have to put out a competitive bid, and all nonprofits would be eligible on a competitive basis to submit an application to do this.”

The list of projects already appeared before the Finance Committee last week. That body sent it to the county board for review. Now the projects will return again to the Finance Committee for recommendations. That committee comprises David Englebert (chair), Dan Austad, Rodney Beardsley, Elizabeth Gauger, Susan Kohout, Alexis Heim Peter, Nancy Robillard and Dale Vogel. Its next meeting will be held Wednesday, Feb. 16, 9 am.