County worried about Main Street Broadband’s cost

Published 7:33 pm Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Decatur County Board of Commissioners learned Tuesday that the county has already overspent the $2.5 million in SPLOST funds that were earmarked for the Main Street Broadband project.

Main Street Broadband, LLC, and Decatur County signed a contract Dec. 8, 2009, with the intention of creating a wireless broadband high-speed Internet service that could provide Internet connections to any Decatur County citizen. The project was included on the project list that voters approved in the most recent SPLOST referendum.

During Tuesday’s regular board meeting, Interim County Administrator Gary Breedlove told commissioners that $2.5 million in SPLOST funds was set aside for the project. In a memo, Breedlove explained that the commissioners approved upgrades to four system tower sites on March 13 — the Attapulgus water tower, the Bainbridge water tower, Bubber Road and Woodhull Road.
Breedlove said three of the sites came in under budget, but the Attapulgus water tower was approximately $50,000 more than expected. He said this was because the old water tower had to be disassembled and Main Street Broadband’s equipment then had to be completely installed in the new tower.

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Breedlove explained that the $176,000 cost of upgrading the four tower sites means the county has spent approximately $2.69 million on the project so far — well beyond the original $2.5 million budgeted in SPLOST funds. He said, in the memo, that the most recent $176,000 invoice has not yet been paid.

Also in the memo, Breedlove explained that there are no remaining SPLOST funds for further tower site development. If Main Street Broadband continues to add customers at the 2012 rate, Breedlove said it would cost the county another $200,000. Breedlove said there are 1,300 current customers, and approximately half of those are in the Bainbridge city limits.

“I believe that our goal of total county coverage is economically impossible at this time,” he said. “We need to seriously re-evaluate this contract.”

Several commissioners stated that they have constituents who have tried to join the Main Street Broadband service, but have been told they cannot connect. Other constituents have reported spotty coverage, Commissioners Russell Smith and Dr. Earl Perry said.

Shane Turner, a network technician with Main Street Broadband, told the commissioners to let him know the constituents who were having problems, and Main Street Broadband would try to work with them.

Commissioner Frank Loeffler questioned Turner whether Main Street Broadband made promises it could not keep.

“We were told, that for $2.5 million, all of Decatur County could be covered, is that correct,” Loeffler asked.

“I’m not sure, sir, I was not around at that time,” Turner responded.

Perry made a motion for Breedlove and County Attorney Brown Moseley to “review and reassess the contractual arrangement” with Main Street Broadband. That motion passed unanimously.

The county also voted 5-1 to pay the most recent invoices for tower site improvements. Commissioner Oliver Sellers was the lone “no” vote.

“I’m of the opinion that no more public funds should be put into it,” he said.