High Springs, BOCC to join forces in countywide broadband project

In a joint meeting between the City of High Springs and the Alachua Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on Thursday, elected officials agreed that joining efforts to establish a solid countywide broadband service would best benefit constituents.

County Manager Michele Lieberman told both commissions that Alachua County staff is involved in the City of Gainesville’s current broadband study about ways to insure residents have equal access broadband.

Lieberman said this comes as the federal government distributes American Rescue Plan funds to local governments to address infrastructure issues.

“Since cities will receive funds, it’s an opportunity for the communities to get together to look at a countywide broadband system,” Lieberman said.

According to the plan, $350 billion dollars in emergency funding will go to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments “to remedy this mismatch between rising costs and falling revenues.”

The plan distributes $195 billion for states, with a minimum of $500 million per state; $130 billion for local governments with a minimum of $1.25 billion per state provided by the statute inclusive of the amounts allocated to local governments within the state; $20 billion for tribal governments; and $4.5 billion for territories.

The legislation is designed to provide relief and enable continued support for the COVID-19 pandemic public health response, according to the description.

“In addition to helping these governments address the revenue losses they have experienced as a result of the crisis, it will help them cover the costs incurred due responding to the public health emergency and provide support for a recovery – including through assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, aid to impacted industries, and support for essential workers. It will also provide resources for state, local, and tribal governments to invest in infrastructure, including water, sewer, and broadband services,” the plan description states.

BOCC Chair Ken Cornell said the commission will also address the topic at the April 14 meeting with the City of Gainesville and the School Board Alachua County.

“The pandemic has identified a number of equity issues for kids that are at home trying to go through their school studies,” Cornell said about the current problems with broadband in Alachua County. “If we could collectively, all elected officials, be focused on the federal dollars received to see how we could leverage those dollars, I know this county commission is interested in that.”

High Springs City Manager Ashley Stathatos agreed: “We would like to be your partner with anything the city could partner with.”

“Received loud and clear,” Cornell responded.

According to Tommy Crosby, assistant county manager in charge of budget and fiscal services, the county estimates it will receive $52 million from the American Rescue Plan.

 “We do not have final numbers, but our estimate is $52 million—$26 million within 60 days and $26 million after 12 months,” Crosby said. “We have until Dec 2024 to spend.”

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