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County approves $1 million gift for broadband

WORTHINGTON — Commissioner Gene Metz stepped away from his seat on the Nobles County board Tuesday morning to wear his second hat — that of vice president of Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co. (LCTC) — to ask the board to financially support the completion of Nobles County’s broadband project, to the tune of nearly $1 million.

After some discussion, it passed on a 4-0 vote with Metz abstaining.

Earlier this year, LCTC was awarded a $2.94 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, but another $1 million in anticipated grant funding fell through. In need of additional funding to complete the project, representatives from the cooperative appeared before commissioners in April seeking a $3 million loan. Discussion later turned to bonding for the money.

On Tuesday, Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said the process for bonding would be tedious. He learned of First State Bank Southwest’s strong interest in participating, and while the interest rate is slightly higher, it would be “a lot less work for staff.”

Greg Raymo, president of First State Bank Southwest, thanked Johnson for reaching out to the bank.

“You guys are required to keep reserves and your reserves are putting investment in the bank,” Raymo said. “We rarely get an opportunity to use your money to help you. You’re actually using your own money.”

Kinetic Leasing of Fargo, N.D., will handle the lease financing with First State Bank Southwest for $2.75 million. Nobles County commissioners voted Tuesday to make the first loan payment of $226,451, due Sept. 1. In addition, commissioners authorized $750,000 toward the broadband project — half to be paid this year, and half in 2018. The funds will be taken from the county’s wind energy production tax proceeds.

LCTC is responsible for making the remainder of the principal and interest payments on the 16-year loan.

Metz said construction is moving a lot faster than anticipated on the broadband project, with the biggest hold-up being state permits. He said all of the fiber may be installed this year, ahead of the original goal of having the project completed in 2018.

Metz also made it clear he hadn’t talked to commissioners or staff about the $1 million cash infusion by Nobles County prior to Tuesday’s vote. He said the intent is that as soon as the project is cash-flowing, LCTC will continue wiring the county.

“We’re a cooperative — the money doesn’t go in our pockets, it goes in our patrons’ pockets,” Metz said.

He also indicated that he has to be careful because he still represents the interests of the county and doesn’t want to place the county in a financial bind.

“If you feel strongly enough, it’s economic development for the county,” he added.

Commissioner Justin Ahlers said he wanted to go on record saying the broadband project is essentially “building a library.”

“We’re not investing in bricks and mortar, but it’s impacting everyone in the county,” Ahlers said. “Internet is the way it is now. I can’t see us going backwards.”

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at farmbleat.areavoices.com.

(507) 376-7330
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