Supplemental Funding for 18 Towns
Since May, 2015, the Town of Hawley has been spearheading an effort to generate Supplemental Funding through the State Legislature for those Western Massachusetts Towns that are most severely affected by the high cost of Broadband implementation. Early on, the Communications Committee conducted two analyses of MBI’s table of buildout costs – first on a cost per household basis and then by average tax rate increase. What we discovered was that there are 18 Towns where the tax rate increase needed to finance Broadband would be higher than the average increase across all Towns of $.85/1000.
Hawley had the third-highest tax-rate increase, at $1.58/1000, with only Warwick ($1.66) and Monroe ($2.62) posting higher amounts. To put it in perspective, this analysis shows that Hawley’s tax burden for Broadband will be nearly twice (186%) the additional tax burden paid by the average Town during the 15 years it will take to pay off the bonds that would be used to finance the project.
On the one hand, it could be argued that Hawley and Towns like it would be enjoying the benefits of Broadband, as well as possible returns of ‘profits’ based on user fees. On the other, there is no guarantee that any revenues generated would be great enough to make up for the cumulative effect of a tax increase that would be in place for 15 years.
Based on this information, the Hawley Communications Committee decided to mount an email campaign involving State Legislators and the Selectboards of the 18 Towns. The purpose of the campaign was to make the funding request and to garner the support of the participating Towns. We decided to ask for supplemental funds rather than for a redistribution of existing build-out costs so that no Town would be asked to “give anything up” in order for the program to move forward.
Eligible Towns and Funding Amounts
The following table shows the Towns and amounts that would be granted under this program:
Since this funding initiative was conceived in May, two sets of letters have been sent out via email and regular mail to all 18 Towns, as well to all state Senators and Representatives that cover those Towns, as well as to Representative Paul Mark. Samples of these communications can be found HERE.
Part of the purpose of those letters was to garner support from the 18 Towns in the form of letters from their Selectboards to Representative Mark, with copies to their other Senators and Representatives, stating their support for the funding program.
Where the Program Stands
On July 22, the Town of Hawley received a written response from Senator Downing and Representative Mark, also available HERE. Basically, it said that there is no more money and we’ve missed the deadline for budgeting in 2015, anyway. What it did do is encourage Towns like Hawley with cost issues to pursue alternatives to fiber-to-the-home as a way to save money, saying that: “MBI believes that each community must collectively decide exactly what kind of network – fiber, wireless, cable, etc., they wish to build.”
While this letter can be interpreted in a number of ways, the Hawley Communications Committee has decided to take the high road and pursue two courses:
We met with Representative Mark shortly after receiving the letter. He encouraged us to pursue both courses, taking care to make sure we put our funding “ask” in the queue in time for it to be a part of the budget process.
With the second course in mind, the Hawley Communications Committee will be meeting with Rep. Mark on Thursday, November 19 to update him on our activities and to determine the specifics of what we need to do to move on the Supplemental Funding request.
Where We Stand with the Towns
As this was being written:
♦ We have 12 support letters in hand from Town Selectboards;
That’s a total of 15 of the original 18 Towns that support — and see the need for – Supplemental Funding: one short of all the Towns that could.
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A POSITIVE MEETING WITH REPRESENTATIVE PAUL MARK
The Meeting between State Representative Paul Mark, the Hawley Selectboard, the Communications Committee and a group of Hawley residents that took place at the Town Office on November 19 was highly productive. After hearing a joint presentation on Communications Committee activities vis a vis Broadband by Lark Thwing and Rick Kean, Representative Mark focused his attention on two areas:
1.) The need for the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI) to become more flexible in its requirements for a hybrid fiber-wireless network, regarding:
• system download and upload speeds; and,
2.) The request for Supplemental Funding by the “List of 18,” a group of Western Massachusetts Towns that are carrying an inordinately heavy burden of the costs of Broadband buildout and deployment under the current MBI plan. Twelve signed Letters of Support from participating Town Selectboards were presented to Mr. Mark at the meeting, plus a status update on the remaining six.
Rep. Mark acknowledged the need for fexibility and indicated he would stay vigilent on the matter. He also said he thought the request for Supplemental Funding was justifiable and politically viable, in that the “List of 18” represents the most aggrieved Towns.
Rep. Mark said he would support the Supplemental Funding request in the legislature, and will be organizing a meeting between representatives of the Towns, and their five State Senators and Representatives, in mid-January to develop that proposal and insert it into the Commonwealth’s budgeting process.
“I live in Peru, MA,” he said. “We have nothing there. I’m the only representative in the State Assembly with no local cell phone or high-speed Internet.”
“When it comes to small, rural Towns like Hawley and their need for Broadband, I ‘get’ it,” Rep. Mark concluded.
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