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Commission seeks funds for broadband upgrade

The Lowndes County Commission is seeking funds to purchase a building to house the headquarters for the county’s upcoming broadband expansion.

Commissioners are looking at a resolution for a $5.4 million bond to fund the project, but expressed concern over the commitment.

“I think the broadband is great,” said Commissioner W. Dickson Farrior. “This is a tremendous amount of money for the commission to put up.”

Robert Woods, the person researching a means to help fund the match required by the County Commission said he looked into a straight mortgage, but a bond would have allowed for a lower interest rate.

“The bond would be a lower interest rate,” said Woods. “It’s not that a straight mortgage would have not worked…it would have if the county chose to pay a higher interest rate.”

Woods projected interest rates on a bond would be less than 3 ½-percent, as opposed to between 5 ½-to-5 ¾-percent, but added he had not gotten a clear interest rate on a bond.

Farrior expressed concern of Lowndes County being hooked into the $5.4 million bond if the project were to fail.

“I would think if someone was going to bring $80 million to my area that would stimulate the economy with the construction jobs alone, it would be well work the risk you would be taking,” said Woods. “If you think about it logically.”

Farrior asked if there were any other options explored that would not put the county in jeopardy, however Woods said that is not what he was asked to do.

The broadband project is the result of a $59 million grant funded by stimulus money which was acquired through a partnership between the Lowndes County Commission and Trillion Communications.

The goal of the expansion is aimed at improving the quality of service, lowering the cost of service for customers and creating service competition within Lowndes County by spurring economic development, said Larry Morrow of Trillion Communications.

“This type of design will allow up to five of each type of service provider and will provide choice to customers,” said Morrow.

Trillion Communications has engaged in similar projects since 1993, however this will be the first time the company is taking on a simultaneous project across eight counties, said Morrow.

Morrow also said that Trillion has found an improvement in education, roads, water, sewer and made other counties more attractive for incoming businesses.

“We want to do this well so it benefits all the citizens that are here,” Morrow said.

Wood offered example figures from other areas that have made similar infrastructure upgrades, noting his term as a county commissioner in a community between Montgomery and Atlanta.

“Our tax base grew from about $80 million to $120 million per year,” said Wood. “Our population grew from about 80,000 to about 120,000 people.”

A once-wooded area in the community grew to nearly one million feet of retail space and is confident Lowndes County will see growth as a result of the project, Wood said.

The anticipated start date for the broadband project is March 1, however that date may be deterred by unforeseen difficulties, said Morrow.