Brian McDowell

Tribune reporter

Chanute Mayor Greg Woodyard classified Monday night’s Chanute City Commission meeting as one in which history was made. The commission passed a motion that brought the city’s $15.2 million plan to bring high-speed internet fiber to the home one step closer to coming to fruition.

This motion passed 4-1, with the dissenting vote being cast by Commissioner Kevin Berthot. The motion that was passed consisted of three parts - a $118,500 pre-deployment baseline analysis study by Strategic Networks Group for the purposes of economic development, ($90,000 of this would come from the state); between $5,000 and $7,500 for the hiring of attorney Glenda Cafer who has experience working for the Kansas Corporation Commission which would ultimately have to approve of this plan; and the securing of $18.9 million of utility revenue bonds to fund all phases of the project within the city’s utility service area.

These bonds would include a debt service reserve fund and some additional funding to help make early interest payments on any resulting debt from this plan.

This kind of wraparound financing is preferred by Woodyard, since a lot of the bonds that are currently on the city’s books will be paid off by 2020 when the first payments for these bonds become due.

“At that point in time, should anything go awry or go south, we would have an excess of available cash to pay these down, which I don’t think we’ll need,” Woodyard said, “but this gives us that possibility.”

 It has been determined that these bonds can be secured without a public vote, provided the KCC approves the plan and no petitions opposing it are turned into the city. CityAttorney David Brake said the KCC approval was deemed necessary because Chanute’s fiber plan could be said to compete against private utilities.

Pointed questions were asked by Berthot about both the total costs of the project and the total amount of principal and interest on these bonds before casting his no vote. He said these questions were asked to make sure everyone in the public was clear on how much the project would ultimately cost.

Officials say the project will be paid for by loans backed by utility customers, specifically the consumers who choose to participate in the service.

Berthot also asked about a baseline pilot program that was approved for this project, and was told this would now not be happening.

“It was my understanding that to do the pilot project was going to increase the whole incremental cost of doing the whole fiber to the home project,” Woodyard said. “So, if we did that, then we wouldn’t get the special pricing on buying massive amounts of fiber cable. When you’re doing this type of project, and you buy in quantity, you get it all at a cheaper cost.”

The commissioners were reminded by Berthot that their actions during meetings like this one would have future consequences. He said he supported both the baseline analysis and the hiring of Cafer, but said he did not support issuing $19 million worth of revenue bonds at this time. He wanted to wait until KCCC approval was assured before considering such an option.

Commissioner Jim Chappell asked if the $40 a month rate for high speed internet would remain at that price for the amount of time it would take to pay the project off, and was assured that could be done while still properly funding this project.

The status of surveys that were mailed out to local businesses and residents about whether or not there was an interest in this high-speed fiber was also discussed at this meeting. Out of the 1,030 surveys turned in to the city, 62 percent of respondents said either yes or maybe to the question of whether they would be interested in receiving high-speed Internet in their homes or places of business. This is compared to a 38 percent no vote.  

Woodyard used this to suggest that about 45 percent of local residents will likely take advantage of fiber to the home when it becomes available, a take rate which is projected to allow the city to pay off this plan in just over 14 years.

“I think once it starts rolling out, a lot of people will see what type of services they’re getting through the city,” Woodyard said, “and they’ll get those bundle packages and we’ll be able to offer them a better product than they’re currently getting at a cheaper price. I think more people will sign up for it in that point in time.”

The mayor also said he attended a Kansas League of Municipalities meeting in Wichita last weekend, and had a great number of city officials from around the state talk to him about this plan.

“A lot of other communities are looking at starting to do this, possibly,” Woodyard said. “We are the trendsetters for the state of Kansas. Everybody’s looking at us to see how we go through the process of doing the fiber project.”

The commission unanimously approved an increase up to $75,000 in waiving landfill fees from the demolition of Holiday Park by Midwest Fertilizer, which will be building its office on the site of the former hotel.  Only 10 perecent of the hotel is left standing, and 1,300 tons of refuse have been hauled away from the site. Woodyard said that Chanute ultimately saved money from having someone tear down the long-abandoned hotel by having Midwest Fertilizer do it instead of the city. Midwest Fertilizer will be bringing 20 well-paying jobs to the city, when this new facility opens.

Commissioner Marsha McCoy formally invited the City Commission to have joint quarterly meetings with the Neosho County Commission. These roundtable discussions with a set agenda would rotate both nights and locations, and would include representatives from all municipalities in the county.

“We need to know what they’re doing and we need to let them know what we’re doing,” McCoy said.

She expressed hope that these meetings can be organized within the next month.

Interim City Manager Sam Budreau asked the commission to consider holding regular work sessions before its meetings, instead of having them on Mondays when no meetings are scheduled.

Outgoing Main Street Chanute executive director Phyllis Neff gave a statement about the success of the Cover The Earth with Kindness event, which donated more than 3,000 food items to four local food pantries. She also touted the success of Artist Alley, and announced the upcoming Trick or Treat event on Main Street on Oct. 30, before the Spook Parade.  This will be the first event run exclusively by Main Street Chanute’s new executive director Ruthann Boatwright.

Neff thanked the commission for their support through her years as director of the organization, and urged them to pursue making downtown a historic district. She said this could happen if commissioners would work on educating downtown business owners on the benefits of making such a step.

The commission recognized a visit to the meeting by the local Leadership Chanute class, which is offered as a co-op between the Chanute Chamber of Commerce and NCCC. Students in this class have held panels with city commissioners, toured businesses and sat in on this meeting. Woodyard expressed hope that this class would inspire people to get more involved in the community.

In other actions, the commission:

• Approved 5-0 an annual $4 increase in monthly sewer base charges to fund improvements and future needed projects.

• Unanimously passed a consent agenda, which included requests to close local streets for the Annual Turkey Trot 5K on Nov. 8 and the Veterans Day Parade on Nov, 11.

Chappell asked for an update on the plans to bring a professional independent league baseball team to Chanute’s Katy Park next summer. Budreau said he would soon be following up on this.

Mayor Woodyard read a statement, which proclaimed Oct. 19-25 Chanute’s BPW Women’s Week.

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