Internet update, meals tax part of Charles City town hall discussion
A Sept. 5 town hall hosted by Charles City County’s Board of Supervisors looked to address concerns from citizens. And despite a small turnout of only 25 people, two topics of interest were touched upon by county leaders.
County Administrator Michelle Johnson provided a broadband Internet update during the meeting. Johnson recalled the county’s timeline of events, starting from the initial layout in 2013 to receiving the broadband grant to bring businesses into the county in Dec. 2014. From there, the county administrator explained how former planning director Matt Rowe’s presentation said Internet would be available in 2015. However, that never came to fruition.
More slides showed how Internet was promised to citizens by SCS Broadband since 2016 but had not arrived. Johnson commented that she and District 2 representative Bill Coada met with SCS Broadband and Design 9 (the network designer) about the plans to bring Internet to the citizens. Talks revolved about how the tower located in Roxbury Industrial Park was too short due to the landfill blocking the signal. Johnson said that both Design 9 and SCS Broadband used the same technology when designing if the network would work, with SCS Broadband workers discovering that they were incapable of doing that with the current height of the tower after an employee climbed to the top of the tower and saw the blockade of the signal.
The county administrator continued, saying that on May 17 of this year they met with BOIP, a second provider that could bring Internet to Charles City.
“The county has been exploring and weighing other options,” Johnson said. “In July, we told SCS Broadband that we are going to look into other options.”
The first option, recommended by SCS Broadband and received on Aug. 2, was the construction of a 199-foot tower at the cost of $145,000. That tower is 60 feet taller than the originally constructed tower and would sit on an elevation 40 feet higher, positioning it signal higher than the landfill.
On Aug. 6, Charles City representatives met with Lumos, another Internet service provider. Johnson said that the county will also meet with another possible provider within the upcoming week.
On Aug. 17, an option to extend the current tower by 20 feet was proposed. While the recommendation would make the chance of reception greater, it’d fall short of the 200-foot landfill hill despite it only costing an additional $2,000.
“We want to make sure this is the product that will get Internet to the citizens in the most effective and efficient way,” Johnson commented. “This is the taxpayer’s money.”
Bonnie Whitaker asked about if the county was going to recoup any money due to not receiving Internet service in a timely fashion.
“What people need to know is that the $600,000 grant was to bring broadband to Roxbury Industrial Park to businesses and not citizens,” responded Coada. “It was not for the citizens. That is when our former planning director [Rowe] proposed the idea to provide Internet through the air for citizens.”
Coada continued, explaining how the county didn’t have to pay SCS Broadband any money for the project.
“In total, the county spent about $90,000 to build and utilize towers for wireless Internet,” Coada added. “In fact, they are paying to lease positioning on our tower.”
Johnson emphasized that the county will continue doing its due diligence in getting Internet to citizens and keeping them informed of the situation.
In the other topic of interest, a four-percent meals tax will be heading to referendum this upcoming November.
Originally brought up during a summer meeting, concerned restaurant owners raised concerns about the meals tax hurting their business and citizens. While the tax is a pass-through tax (with the purchaser paying the tax and not the business), Whitaker expressed concerns about where the funds would go if it gained approval from county citizens during the November ballot.
“I just want to know what will happen to it,” she said. “I heard the four percent would go to the general fund, but I know the county wants to use it for fire/EMS. I just have some concerns about it.”
Coada responded by saying the county doesn’t have a business tax and that going to referendum will be the right thing to do.
“We’re going to let the citizens decide,” he said. “I don’t think the four percent is going to hurt us because when people from this county go out to eat in another county, they pay a meal’s tax.
“Economic development pays for fire, EMS, and it keeps the taxes of county citizens low,” the District 2 representative continued. “There are other options, but bringing a business tax will hurt the county citizens more than the four percent meal’s tax increase.”