Internet, meals tax, solar project highlights discussion at Charles City town hall
An update on broadband Internet in Charles City, a proposed meals tax, and a potential solar project were subjects addressed during Charles City’s Board of Supervisors Mar. 6 town hall meeting.
Garnering 25 attendees, county leaders provided a platform for citizens to ask questions and voice concerns on many topics on the county, including the aforementioned items.
Being in development since 2014, providing reliable and a reasonable cost for Internet to Charles City citizens has been a longstanding issue. With thoughts originally thought that residents would have access to the service in 2015, years came and went with no sign of the Internet becoming a reality.
County Administrator Michelle Johnson provided an update on the situation, saying that progress with the new designer, Wide Open Network, is making headway.
“All of the studies are done, as well as the engineering site plans,” Johnson commented. “The permit process is wrapping up in a couple of weeks and an RFP to clear the site to construct the tower should happen in March or April.”
Citizens have voiced displeasure with the lack of Internet in the county, with the original network Design 9 creating a layout that was unfeasible due to the height of towers. Originally, a 120-foot tower located in Roxbury Industrial Park was to send a signal to a tower located in the Charles City Courthouse complex. However, geo-mapping from two types of software the company was using did not account for the Charles City landfill blocking the signal. In turn, the primary provider SCS Broadband struggled to meet the demands of customers. Johnson has worked with SCS Broadband and Wide Open Network to make sure the project gets off the air, making sure both the new design plan and the provider work together to expedite the process.
Being cautious, Johnson presented a preliminary timetable for the service, but indicated that things can change. According to her Powerpoint presentation, construction for the tower is slated to begin in May 2019, with fencing and generators installed by early June 2019. A target date of July 2019 for customer sign-up through SCS was also listed on her presentation.
“It’s going to work,” she said, reassuring that the project is still ongoing. “It’s just going to take us just a little more time.”
In another topic of discussion, a four percent meals tax proposal is receiving commentary from citizens.
In 2018, a meals tax referendum appeared on the general election ballet, passing by a near two-to-one vote from county citizens. However, that referendum was not advertised properly, resulting in it becoming void. For it to reappear on the ballet, county leaders must vote again to place it on there through a new referendum.
Supervisors listened to comments made by several residents and their opinions on what would be a pass-through tax, one that is placed on the consumer and not the business.
“If this passes, will it go to Fire and EMS?” questioned Bonnie Whitaker, owner of Cul’s Courthouse Grille. “If this tax goes through, it will affect donations and tips.
“I think this tax is going to hurt one industry,” she continued, pointing to the restaurants and areas that provide food to the public. “I hope we can find other ways to fund the county instead of forcing this.”
“This is a hard-hitting tax,” added Kevin Sullivan. “It’s going to hurt the poor people more than the others, and that’s not fair. I don’t see this [tax] as a revenue for the county.”
In the final major topic of the night, a proposed solar project located on Roxbury Road is set for public hearing on Mar. 26.
S-Power Group LLC plans to construct a 340-megawatt solar facility on 1,800 of land located across from St. John’s Baptist Church. According to Johnson, the facility will be built 300-feet away from Roxbury Road and 100 feet away from Barnetts Road. Monetary projects say that the facility will provide $4,725,000 to the county over the next 35 years, in comparison to just $455,000 if the land wasn’t developed.
Questions arose in areas of huge tax cuts and if the company was underpaying for the area, with some citizens pointing to S-Power’s recent acquirement of land in other localities. Public meetings on the project are scheduled, with one taking place on Mar. 12 at Union Baptist Church and an additional one being held at St. John Baptist Church on Mar. 18.