Broadband

Could federal stimulus money be used to bring broadband internet services to Madison County?

County commission chairman Todd Higdon floated the possibility Monday when discussing the $5,795,042 the county government is scheduled to receive from the federal $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, with half of the money coming in June and the other half 12 months later. Higdon said counties across the country are waiting for the Treasury Department to clarify exactly how the money can be spent. But infrastructure projects, such as internet and water/sewer upgrades, appear eligible.

“The intent for Madison County as of right now is going to be toward infrastructure projects, which will be potentially creating a broadband system for the county,” said Higdon. “We’re looking into that. We’re also looking at possibly dipping our toes in the sewer business and trying to get a sewer plant established. All of this is just hypothetically speaking, because as of right now, we still don’t know how we can spend the money.”

Higdon said he met with a local citizen, David Jones, who has built internet systems, to discuss ideas on a broadband system in the county. He said that since that meeting he has talked with another contractor that installs broadband.

“They have come up with some numbers also,” said Higdon.

The chairman said there are approximately 450 miles of paved roads, 89 miles of state highways and 112 miles of dirt roads.

“This is quite an undertaking (to put lines down all the miles of roads),” he said, adding that he would like to see county stimulus funds used to apply for matching grants through the state.

Higdon said the county is “heavily looking into broadband” and that he has another meeting Friday to look at a feasibility study, which may cost around $30,000-to-$35,000.

The chairman said county broadband would take considerably more than the $5.8 million federal allotment for Madison County. He said just running broadband down paved roads and state highways would be about $7.5 million. He added that the county isn’t excluding dirt roads. He said the paved-road figure provides an idea of possible costs.

The county government isn’t alone in Madison County in getting substantial federal aid. The county school system is slated to receive $8,811,338 from the stimulus funding tagged for schools. Madison County School Superintendent Michael Williams said the schools haven’t made any decisions on how the money will be spent, but he said it will be helpful.

“This will most definitely help our students with learning loss during this past year,” said Williams. “We are currently working through plans on how to best utilize these funds. We are still expecting austerity cuts for FY22 from the state.”

Local municipalities will also receive federal funds. A breakdown from the Georgia Municipal Association shows the projected funds distributed to Madison County’s six towns through the stimulus package: Carlton, $81,917; Colbert, $188,409, Comer, $371,146; Danielsville, $187,148; Hull, $63,328; and Ila, $113,108.

However, cities with populations below the 50,000 threshold will not be able to receive more than 75 percent of their annual general fund operating budget.

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