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County seeks stimulus money for broadband

Decatur County and 10 other Southwest Georgia counties may see the first pieces of their broadband communications network put into place sooner than they thought, if their application for federal economic stimulus money is approved.

At its Tuesday meeting, Decatur County Commissioners unanimously approved the action to send a letter of support to Main Street Broadband LLC of Duluth, Ga., which is seeking to secure a portion of federal stimulus money for developing a multi-county wireless broadband network in Southwest Georgia.

“Our strategic interest is to see technology, and connectivity expanded in the entire Southwest Georgia region, so as to attract investment, jobs and higher living standards to the region as a whole,” the letter of support states.

The county’s broadband effort started out as a partnership between Decatur, Grady and Seminole counties as a means of applying for federal grants to improve emergency responders’ radio communication and install the foundation for wireless Internet connections in rural, remote locations. The three counties have since entered into a regional partnership with the same goals. Through the initial application, Decatur County had sought to fund the venture by combining applied-for U.S. Department of Agricultural Rural Development grants with money raised through the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax approved by county voters in 2008.

Now, Decatur County is seeking to be placed on the fast-track for consideration of funding to develop rural broadband telecommunications networks as a part of the U.S. Congress’ Economic Recovery Act of 2009, County Administrator Tom Patton said.

Patton said county leaders are also interested in installing fiber optics, which would allow for very high speed Internet connections at the county’s industrial park off U.S. 27 North. He said a future business prospect has expressed interest in setting up operations at the park, but only if fiber optics were available.

County Finance Director Carl Rowland said inquiries have already been made to determine the feasibility of extending the fiber optics ring installed within the last year by the City of Bainbridge. The city’s fiber optics connections currently serve municipal offices and local schools, including the new Bainbridge High School.

Main Street Broadband has been interested in Southwest Georgia at least since 2006, when it first received a $33.8 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to The Post-Searchlight’s archives.

Citizens ask county leaders for flooding help

The board heard from Commissioner Butch Mosely, who said he had received four written requests from constituents asking for the county to seek to have their flood-damaged properties bought out and declared uninhabitable.

Patton said the buyout process is complicated and can only be done when certain conditions are met. For example, eligible properties must be the owner’s principal residence and the occupants have to be displaced, he said. To buy out a flood-damaged property, the county has to pay 25 percent of the residence’s fair market value as well as demolition costs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would pick up most of the buyout cost.

Patton, who said he had looked over the requests Mosely had passed along, said he would be glad to explain to residents the flood disaster buyout process. For more information on flood disasters and solutions, visit FEMA’s Web site at http://www.fema.gov/hazard/flood/ or call (800) 621-FEMA.

Closed session held

The following actions were taken after the Board of Commissioners re-convened in open meeting after an executive session:

A litigation matter was discussed and was turned over to County Attorney Brown Moseley. There was no action on a complaint regarding a county employee.

There were three re-appointments to the Planning Commission: June Faircloth, Dean Free and Kelvin Bouie.

No action was taken to fill a slot on the Development Authority Board.

No action was taken on filling Board of Tax Assessor vacancies.

Solid Waste Advisory Committee re-appointments were approved as follows: Post 5 Johnny Medley until 2012, Post 6 Oliver Sellers until 2012; Post 7 Jim Overman, 2011; Post 8 Richard Crook, 2011; and Post 9 Dale Brock, 2011. Two seats on the SWAC are still open and need to be filled.

Finally, Chairman Palmer Rich asked for a motion to be made to renew Patton’s contract at the same pay level and with the same privileges and restrictions, and Commissioner Earl Perry made the motion to renew Patton’s contract for one year, which was seconded by Commissioner Charles Stafford and then unanimously approved, in the absence of Commissioner Russell Smith, who is still in the hospital recovering from a recent horse riding accident.

Other business

In other business, county commissioners:

 Recognized Jim Overman, chairman of the county’s Solid Waste Committee, concerning the statuses of both the old landfill off Georgia 309 South and the new landfill off U.S. 27 South. Overman generally expressed pleasure that the new landfill was being operated without complaints from neighbors and that it is continuing to make the county a profit. He said more work is needed to educate the public about recycling.