High-speed  internet upgrade gets boost

Another step is being taken in the process to bring high-speed internet to residents of northwest Chisago County.

A resolution is being considered by Fish Lake Township to provide a business subsidy of $1.2 million to Qwest Corporation, doing business as CenturyLink, to facilitate the construction and installation of “fiber-to-the-home” broadband internet service for 919 unserved households, seven unserved businesses and one unserved community anchor institution in the township. Speeds are projected to be up to 1 Gigabit per second download and 1 Gbps upload, exceeding the 2026 state speed goal. 

“This state-of-the-art advanced broadband network will have a significant positive impact on people in the project area,” said Andrea Nekowitsch, Fish Lake Township clerk. “Consumers will be able to work from home, have better access to education and healthcare, and businesses will be better able to 

compete locally and globally.”

Nekowitsch noted the project is the biggest financial undertaking for the township, whose entire annual budget is typically around $580,000.

Public hearing on proposal

 A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 12, at the Fish Lake Township Town Hall to allow citizens to comment on the proposed subsidy. A copy of the 26-page subsidy agreement is available for public inspection at the office of the Town Clerk at the Town Hall at 2170 Brunswick Road, Harris, on Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  

According to the proposed agreement between Fish Lake Township and Qwest/CenturyLink, the $1.2 million would be used by CenturyLink for “construction of broadband infrastructure that may include any of the following: project planning, obtaining construction permits, construction of facilities, including construction of both ‘middle mile’ and ‘last mile’ infrastructure, equipment (including fiber) and installation and testing of the broadband service and related facilities.”

Town will issue bonds

To pay for the subsidy, the township proposes to issue General Obligation Tax Abatement Bonds in the amount of $1,248,446 for a period not to exceed 15 years. 

“A General Obligation Tax Abatement Bond,” Nekowitsch said, “means that the Township will borrow the money and will pay back the bond with funds from their annual levy from each and every taxpayer in Fish Lake Township. This is not a special assessment.” The term “abatement” in this case, she said, is not a reduction or deletion of taxes as is commonly meant by the word, but a type of budget line-item charge for each taxpayer in the township. 

Although final numbers are not available, the tax impact on a home valued at $250,000 would be approximately $142 per year for 15 years, said Nekowitsch. An agricultural property valued at $500,000 would see an additional $182 per year on their tax bill. 

 Many funding sources needed

The proposed subsidy is only one funding source needed to provide the $4.5 million needed to complete the whole project.   

In addition to Fish Lake Township’s $1.2 million bond issue, $1.5 million will be provided by a Federal Communications Commission “Connect America Fund” (CAF II) grant to CenturyLink.

An additional $1.8 million will come from a Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant awarded to Fish Lake Township last December through the state of Minnesota. Nekowitsh had applied for the grant last September after seeing Sunrise Township succeed in securing a grant of over $1 million for its own broadband initiative. 

 There is no official completion date for the project, according to Nekowitsch, but estimates are the project will be finished in early 2019. 

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