Tuesday, February 4, 2014

It's an Internet night at the council: Plans for faster rural service, problems with website are among agenda items

By Rachel Aretakis and Erin Grigson
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Midway City Council met Monday evening with discussions centering on plans to bring faster Internet service to rural Midway, problems with the city website and a brief review of snow removal.

Windstream Communications has approached the council about obtaining an easement for city property off Spring Station Road near Gate 24. “It’s trying to get customers faster service in areas outside the city,” Mayor Tom Bozarth told the council.

The company has offered $5,000 for the easement, but Bozarth and Council Member Bruce Southworth said Windstream should pay more.

Bozarth referred the matter to a committee comprising Southworth, Aaron Hamilton and Sara Hicks and asked them to “bring back an appropriate number.” The three plan to meet at the site Wednesday with Raymond Tinson, assistant to the resident engineer for EA Technical Services, the engineering company for Windstream, who spoke to the council about securing the easement.

“Anything you all have a concern about, we can discuss the amendments” to the proposed agreement, Tinson told the council after answering questions. He said the company has received a state grant to improve Internet access in rural areas.

The project could bring high-speed Digital Subscriber Line service to as many as 485 households, Tinson said, though there are not nearly that many people living in the area. He estimated the facility would serve about 150 homes and businesses. The project is working on a six-month deadline, he said.

Bozarth said the property is an old landfill that is no longer in use. The land is near Middlebrook and Nuckols farms, according to the water-line easement provided to council members. Windstream has been unable to obtain property rights from local owners, Tinson said.

The property “would provide pull-off access and room to place equipment,” the company told the council in a letter.

Windstream is requesting the rights to a 25-foot-square piece of the property. It cannot install the fiber optic line needed for the project without such facilities along the routes. Tinson said the area could be fenced in, to be only accessible to Windstream employees, but the details could be worked out in the agreement.

Tinson said the company would maintain the gate and access road. In response to a question from Hicks, he said the facility would cause no harm to animals.
Example of Windstream facilities provided by company in document given to Midway City Council
Among other business Monday, the council passed an ordinance to conform with the latest Kentucky building code, reappointed Helen Rentch as the city’s representative on the county Human Rights Commission, and discussed the city’s website and snow removal.

The website host, WordPress, recently updated its format, which caused the city’s page to have minor problems, said Council Member Grayson Vandegrift.  The site and the events calendar still work, he said, but minor improvements need to be made. “The website still functions; it just doesn’t function great,” he said. “We’re very limited right now with what we can do with the website.”

He said the city will likely have to build a new site, and recommended that the council not put more money into the current one and begin thinking about building a new one.  Southworth suggested that estimates be obtained for consideration in drafting the city budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Vandegrift said the site is seven years old and the council might get three more years out of it. “I think the best option is to just keep going forward and keep trying to make steady improvements to it without reinventing the wheel,” Vandegrift said. “It’s not on its last leg or anything, but some day it’s just not going to work anymore.”

Vandegrift said he thought the contractor the city hired for snow removal has been doing a very good job. “I haven’t heard any complaints,” he said.

This is the first winter that the city has had to pay for plowing of streets after snow, because the county fiscal court dropped the service after Midway became a city of the fourth class.

Bozarth originally budgeted for $30,000 for snow removal in the annual budget that ends June 30, but the council lowered it to $20,000. The city has spent roughly $11,700 so far, but that did not include Monday’s large snowfall, Vandegrift said after the meeting. “We’ve had a lot more snow this year. We hardly had any last year. It’s one of those things that, it’s got to be done,” he said. “Even though we’re a little over what we budgeted right now, in the end, it looks like we’re going to be under.”

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