Wiscasset selectmen

Broadband panel: Fed money not forever

Fri, 01/07/2022 - 8:45am

    To explore Wiscasset’s options for all of town to have fiber optic broadband, including how to ensure residents who cannot afford broadband, or do not know how to use  it, can get it and learn it, the broadband committee plans to propose a budget of about $10,000, $5,000 to $7,000 of it town-funded, the rest a grant from Island Institute, member Carla Dickstein told selectmen Jan. 4. And to go all fiber optic, the town should expect to help fund the project, she said.

    “We will be asked for skin in the game.” The town will pay more for the project, and have more control, if it owns the network than if an internet provider does, Dickstein said. Axiom Technology’s Mark Ouellette said subscriptions can pay off bonds towns take out to fund networks. He and Dickstein also mentioned funding possibilities from other levels of government.

    Dickstein said the pandemic has shown how important high speed internet is, and the federal American Rescue Plan Act is giving the state and counties funding for broadband. “There’s a lot of money out there right now (that) we may not see ... again any time soon,” Dickstein said. Fellow member Marty Fox suggested selectmen consider tapping ARPA funds for the committee’s work instead of waiting for the next town budget. “It’s now or never,” he said of the chance to get the broadband members said is important to Wiscasset’s future.

    Selectman Dusty Jones, the board’s liaison to the committee, called a move to fiber optic broadband town-wide essential, like getting electricity to rural areas was 100 years ago. 

    As for the committee’s funding, Town Manager Dennis Simmons said the board can consider tapping contingency funds or ARPA funds, or putting it in the July 2022-June 2023 budget voters decide in June. Selectmen noted the committee gave them a lot to read. They asked Simmons to put the topic on their next agenda.

    Also Jan. 4, Lucia Droby told the board she will update it Jan. 18 on a James Weldon Johnson marker, with a price range, sample images and recommended site. Feb. 15, she will have a proposal and will confirm private funding is available, she said. Johnson, a poet-civil rights advocate, was killed in a 1938 car-train crash downtown.  

    Droby added, she has started a “working group” with historian and Lincoln County Historical Association Executive Director Shannon Gilmore, Selectman and Appearance of the Town Committee member Terry Heller and landscape architect and Schoonerfest co-founder Peter Wells to help finalize the marker’s look, cost and site. “We’re all deeply committed to Wiscasset and think ... our skills and experience will result in appropriate and doable decisions,” Droby said.

    The town will seek offers for a net energy billing plan to save on its Central Maine Power bill. The request for proposals will not commit the board, Simmons said. “I see no negatives to this (request).” Voters last fall authorized selectmen to make a deal.

    Simmons said Lincoln County may aid towns’ wastewater treatment plants with American Rescue Plan Act funds. This could help Wiscasset improve its plant, he said. The board approved business licenses for Tara Paluck, Root and Reach Consulting, 307 Federal St.; and MD Kazi Abdin, Market 27 LLC, 475 Gardiner Road, the former Maxwell’s Market; and accepted, with thanks for his years of service, Phil Di Vece’s resignation as a Wiscasset Water District trustee.