The Morrison County Board of Commissioners discussed options for new phone and internet service at the Morrison County Solid Waste Management Facility, Tuesday.
IT Director Amy Middendorf said the landfill’s current provider, CTC, is no longer able to service the landfill, which primarily consists of phone and fax. She said the county has reached out to Lumen — formerly known as CenturyLink — because it has lines along County Road 35, where the landfill is located. Those lines, however, don’t provide exactly what is needed, according to Middendorf.
Prior to the recent developments, CTC has leased Lumen’s lines to provide service to the landfill. However, Middendorf said those lines are antiquated and are no longer supported by Lumen. Therefore, they would need to be upgraded.
“We’re looking at bringing a fiber line out to the landfill to provide phones and faxing,” Middendorf said.
Though she was yet to receive a formal quote from Lumen, a preliminary estimate was provided at $1,090 per month for a 36-month service agreement. That would set the cost at around $40,000 over the course of three years. It would include monthly service along with the cost of boring a fiber line connecting its current equipment along County Road 35 to the landfill.
The question, she said, had to due with funding. One possibility is to use dollars from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) received by the county. That might be difficult from a time standpoint, as the paperwork needed on Lumen’s end might take until December to complete. At that point, the ground will likely be frozen and the work won’t be able to be completed until the spring.
Public Works Director Steve Backowski said his department does have a line item of about $40,000 available in the solid waste budget. That could be used to pay for the project if ARP funding isn’t an option. Lumen would be able to provide temporary DSL coverage over the winter until fiber can be pulled in the spring, if necessary.
The project would otherwise qualify for ARP funding based on the criteria of it including broadband build-out along with being an advantage to public safety and public outreach.
“It’s another item to possibly put on your radar that could possibly pay out of ARP if we can hold off on paying until this spring when the actual work is done,” Middendorf said.
She added that the project could also include installing conduit between all of the buildings at the landfill. That would provide high-speed broadband and phone services.
Another factor that comes into play, according to Middendorf, is that the county has inquired about paying for the equipment up front, which would likely be about $30,000. However, that would leave only the service fee of $200 - $300 per month.
“We’ve had this conversation about getting internet service out there,” Backowski said. “We don’t have credit card use because we don’t have access to the internet. Even our scale operations out there, we have to have somebody come directly when we have upgrades, that type of thing.
“It’s been a while that this has been an issue for us,” he continued. “It’s probably the right time to get the cable put in and get the fiber put in so we can upgrade to that.”
Commissioner Randy Winscher asked if it would be possible for CTC to extend its service to the landfill. Backowski said its nearest line is currently two miles away. He said CTC previously evaluated whether or not the landfill account could support the company’s investment. It would not, meaning the company was not willing to extend its service.
Winscher said he would prefer to fund the project using ARP money, if that was a possibility.
“It’s a time sensitive thing, but if we can push the build-out until spring, then when we start talking about ARP funding, then maybe we can purchase the build-out with that if (Lumen) is willing to do that,” Middendorf said. “I think they will be.”
Interim County Co-administrator Brad Vold said the Board could approve the use of ARP funds for the project at any time. The money is already available. He reiterated that it would meet criteria to qualify for ARP dollars.
“The timing of this is critical, so we’ll do whatever we have to do to try to accomplish this,” said Commissioner Greg Blaine. “The funding part of this, my question would be, if we utilized revenue that you have set aside in the solid waste budget, could we go back and backfill that with ARP money once we open that box up?”
County Auditor Chelsey Robinson said, though that was an option when the county was using CARES funding from the state in 2020, it would probably not work with federal ARP money. Due to reporting requirements, she said it would not work to cross fiscal years to backfill solid waste dollars.
Board Chair Mike Wilson asked Middendorf to bring the formal quote from Lumen before the Board so it can decide how it wants to proceed with funding. Though the plan is to complete the work in the spring, Backowski said it could be fast-tracked if it made sense to do so from a financial standpoint.
“What (Lumen) sent to us is, they could probably do the work right away, but the paperwork takes a little time,” Middendorf said. “Most likely the paperwork, I think, realistically won’t get done until December. Most likely, they won’t be able to get into the ground because it will be frozen. It will have to be pushed off until spring.”
Board of Commissioners Briefs:
In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:
• Heard a report from the Land Services Department about a $3,268 total tax reduction for Minnesota Energy Resources on three parcels it owns in Morrison County. The reduction comes because of a court order requiring an abatement on the company’s properties throughout the state;
• Approved the repurchase of tax forfeited properties by the landowners. The land was forfeited to the state on Dec. 1, 2020, but the landowners have now paid all back taxes and met all requirements for repurchase;
• Appointed Anthony Hennen as the new Morrison County engineer, effective Dec. 1 through May 1, 2022, at which point his probationary period will be over and the Board can appoint him to a four-year term, if it chooses; and
• Commissioner Greg Blaine and the rest of the Board expressed gratitude for the work Interim Co-administrators Brad Vold and Beth Hamlin have done in their current roles.
The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is 9 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 9, in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.