Extended broadband internet access no longer planned for Jackson County COVID relief funds

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JACKSON COUNTY, MI – Jackson County officials have removed two major projects from their list of things to deal with promised federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The county receives $ 30 million as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. The Council of Commissioners discussed in August dividing the funding into three spending levels.

Related: Infrastructure Upgrades, Possible Uses of Broadband Access for Jackson County COVID Relief Funds

However, some projects were taken off the list, including expanding county-wide broadband access and replacing the irrigation system at the Cascades golf course, due to their high price tag, has said county administrator Mike Overton.

“We don’t have enough ARPA funds,” Overton said. “We could use everything and not put broadband across the county. “

County officials are conducting a feasibility study which found that many places across the county do not have high-speed internet access.

“I think of broadband the same way I think of roads – they are important,” Overton said.

However, it would cost around $ 100 million to provide broadband access throughout Jackson County, Overton said, due to the cost of equipment and installation. The county would have to pay around $ 20,000 to $ 30,000 per mile to install the necessary fiber optic cables, said Michelle McClish, Jackson County IT director.

Since ARPA funds cannot cover this cost, the county is now seeking help from a federal infrastructure bill currently being held up by the US Congress. The $ 1.2 trillion bill could provide state funding to expand broadband Internet coverage, if passed.

Related: Massive infrastructure bill ‘great for Michigan’, senators celebrating likely passage

“I’m counting on it,” Overton said. “We don’t have county funds.

Replacing the golf course’s irrigation system is expected to cost $ 1.6 million, according to the county’s ARPA list of projects.

Using the COVID-19 relief funds for this work is not necessary because the golf courses are self-sufficient and use their own income to pay for necessary repairs, replacements or other projects, Overton said.

“It’s a business fund, so it operates like a business, so its income has to cover its expenses,” Overton said.

However, replacement of the irrigation system is still necessary, Overton said, because the original system was installed in 1966.

When the golf course received revenue from public use, the parks department would use the profits towards county parks, Overton said. A few years ago, the county allowed the golf course to keep its revenue in the hope that it could eventually generate revenue to replace the irrigation system, he said.

There is currently no estimate of when a new irrigation system could be added, Overton said. However, the county has added “band-aids” to the system to make it work, he said.

All US bailout funds must be committed by December 2024 and spent by December 2026.

To view the full list of ARPA projects in the county, Click here.

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