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Crawford will budget for broadband project

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The town of Crawford has agreed to budget about $60,000 over the next two to three years to pay for its estimated share of installation of "final mile" broadband infrastructure. The project is part of a $5.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs obtained by Region 10 to provide affordable high-speed broadband Internet services to Montrose and Delta counties. Money will help pay for installation of the fiber network from a Delta-Montrose Electric Association substation to carrier-neutral locations within the town.

At the Oct. 7 town board meeting, Region 10 executive director and enterprise zone administrator Michelle Haynes spoke to trustees about the need for bringing broadband to the area. "You all know, in this day and age, broadband is just a necessary service," for schools and businesses, said Haynes.

Delta County communities are being asked to pay part of the cost to install fiber from substation to carrier-neutral locations (CNL). Cost is expected to be between $11-$18 per foot to install fiber, plus $5,500 for equipment installation at each CNL. Once installed, individual service providers can contract with Region 10 to provide affordable services to businesses and residences, said Haynes. The town has no intention of entering into the broadband business.

In looking at the town's current finances, expenses for the general fund thus far this year have been $71,563 and revenues are at $105,405, said public works director Bruce Bair, who led a discussion on the 2016 draft budget. "It looks like we may have a little bit of room in the general fund" for making a contribution toward broadband, said Bair.

The money would not all be due at once. Municipalities will pay as the project is built out. Haynes said construction is expected to begin next June and take about a year to 18 months, meaning the cost to Crawford can be stretched out over at least two fiscal years.

While Region 10's grant allows only for "middle mile" infrastructure construction, Delta County has agreed to pay up to $800,000 toward the project. That's "amazing," said Haynes. "No other county in our region is doing this ... They so strongly believe in economic development and the role of broadband in economic development that they've committed to making sure each of your communities has at least one access point to the service."

Region 10 "is asking our communities to really consider paying what they can afford," said Haynes. "I don't foresee another time in the future to have this kind of opportunity to leverage these funds."

The town had until last Friday to identify its anchor points and state its financial commitment to the project to the county.

Also at the meeting, Connie Layton, president of the Crawford Area Chamber of Commerce, said that no one is planning to take over the annual Parade of Lights and Festival of Trees this year. The festival is held the Friday after Thanksgiving. With the event just five weeks out, "It's our understanding there will be no Parade of Lights," or Festival of Trees.

Trustee Hetty Todd said she believes someone will step up. "They're not going to just let it die, so we'll just have to wait and see."

The Fruitland Mesa Club also hosts its annual crafts fair that weekend, and in the past has held the event in the Town Hall community room. Speaking on behalf of the club, Layton requested that it be given special consideration for a reduced rate after trustees set the daily rental of the room at $100. "They can't afford the $100 rate," said Layton.

Following discussion, trustees voted to let the club have the room free of charge. Todd noted that the money made at the craft fair circulates back into the community, and Mayor Susie Steckel noted that the club put money toward Town Hall remodeling efforts.

"We're going to have to revisit those room rates, because they are too high," said Steckel. "Because it's a community building we have to allow the community to at least be able to use it and be able to afford it."

Discussion of rental fees will be placed on the Oct. 21 agenda.

Layton is also seeking potential chamber board members after four of the six active members said they will not stay on the board after their terms expire in December. Individuals interested in serving on the board can contact the chamber ahead of its November election.

"The fate of the chamber rests on other people stepping up to participate," said Layton.

Trustees also voted to approve the liquor license renewal application for the Boardwalk Restaurant. Trustee Gill Saunders, owner of the Boardwalk, abstained from voting.

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