Henry County Board moves forward with plan to expand broadband in rural communities

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
Historic Henry County Courthouse

The Henry County Board met Thursday evening, January 19,  to view a presentation on a joint effort between Geneseo Communications and Woodhull Telephone to further expand broadband to rural portions of the county.  

For a County investment of $3 million to Geneseo and $350,000 to Woodhull, more than $9 million worth of broadband expansion will be done in this example of public-private partnership.  These funds are a portion of the American Rescue Plan monies that the County received earlier this year. The communications companies would receive half up front and half upon completion.

More: County Board agrees to allocation of ARPA funds

Communities to be involved will be Annawan, Atkinson, Cambridge, Cleveland, as well as homes and businesses along Wolf Road in Geneseo. Completion of  Galva broadband, should the current communications company not finish within five years, is also in the agreement.  Woodhull Telephone will provide buried fiber to Lynn Center and Ophiem in southwest Henry County.  According to Mike McClain, CEO of Geneseo Communications, the fiber technology has a lifespan of 50-60 years and is "futureproof".

Besides buried fiber to those communities, Geneseo Communications will be placing broadband antennae on the Cambridge water tower to broadcast high speed bandwidth to area rural homes.  Those homes will be able to connect to it with an antenna on the outside of the home, in range of the transmitter, and a modem or router within the home.  The speeds for this are expected at 25 Mb download and 3 Mb upload.  

The Broadband expansion program passed with an 10-6 vote. Members Kippy Breeden, Jeff Orton, Angie Frank and Jill Darin abstained due to stock ownership or employment conflicts.  Voting no were: Shawn Kendall, Jim Padilla, Malissa Sandberg, Lynn Sutton, Dwayne Anderson and Natalie Collins.

More: Where are the boundaries on the proposed broadband expansion?

Chairwoman Kippy Breeden announced that Community Assistance Grant application forms will be available shortly.   A press release will go out with instructions on how to apply.  Community Assistance is the fourth Pillar of the County's ARPA distribution plan.  Completed applications will be reviewed by the Ad Hoc committee, and if approved, will move to the Finance Committee to be reviewed.  From there, qualifying projects will be voted on by the full Board. 

The Board further reviewed an initiative that provides a $50 utility credit for all qualifying households in the County.  Mar Burton stated that 11% of the County's population was at or below the poverty line, and that this measure would have no recognized impact.  Burton's suggestion was to give the funds to organizations better equipped to handle need-based assistance. 

Kippy Breeden countered that the $50 credit fulfills a promise to help every resident  in the County, and it was most helpful now when utilities are high. 

When a vote was taken, the measure scraped through with an 11-9 count.  Those voting no were Ned Richardson, Mark Burton, Jill Darin, Angie Franks, Kathy Nelson, Jim Thompson, Dwayne Anderson, Marshall Jones and Shawn Kendall. 

Jeff Orton referred to the measure as  "A teaspoon of water whether you were thirsty or not."

More: What made the price of heating your home jump?

The subject of Board pay was brought up for discussion.  The proposal of doing away with the $40 per diem and replacing it with $40 per meeting was made, as well as allowing for state approved mileage reimbursement. Board pay would also be increased from $60 for a full board meeting to $75.  Shawn Kendall had the amounts other surrounding counties pay their Board members, and these figures were found to be median.  The new pay rates would not take effect until the new board is seated in December of 2022.  The measure passed 18-2 with Dwayne Anderson and Mark Burton dissenting.

An increase for the Board Chair was also voted on, moving the Chair's pay from $3000 annually to $4000.  This pay raise would also not take effect until December of 2022.  It passed as well 18-2 with Anderson and Burton as the dissenting votes.