Local amendment up for vote
By Matt Wilson
For the FCT
The upcoming elections on Nov. 4 will see voters in Franklin County turn out to cast their ballots for state representatives, state senators, county sheriff, and school board positions along with many other choices. But one thing residents of Franklin County will be able to vote for next Tuesday is an amendment to the state constitution and that could have a lasting effect for all of the citizens.
The proposed Local Amendment Number 1 is an amendment that if passed would “allow the Franklin County Water Coordinating and Fire Prevention Authority to provide sewer services and broadband internet services in this county,” according to the proposed amendment.
County Extension coordinator Katernia Cole said this amendment is important to pass because it will have an effect on the kids in the rural parts of the county.
“It is important to get this passed because it will allow us to go ahead and start applying for grants in order to secure funding so we can start the process of getting broadband internet provided,” Cole said.
“In order for our kids to compete with other parts of the state, with other schools, we need this. If textbooks start going online and other learning opportunities are online, the kids will have high speed internet at school, but they might not have it at home.”
Frank Hoehn, the director of Franklin County Information Technology, said the amendment is a way to help move the county forward.
“The bottom line is that this amendment is a mechanism to secure grants and bonds in order to provide affordable broadband Internet service,” Hoehn said. “If it is approved by the voters, then it will allow for the process to move forward, and if it doesn’t then we will have to start finding alternate avenues for funding this project.”
By having the broadband Internet services placed under the Water Authority, grants and bonds for funding would be able to immediately be sought due to the 501(c)(3) status.
According to Alabama’s official government website, a 501(c)(3) is a non-profit organization formed for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes and are eligible for federal and state tax exemptions. To create a tax exempt status such as that, an Alabama non-profit organization would have to be formed and then filing for the tax-exempt status would have to take place.
Cole said the idea of putting the broadband Internet service “under the umbrella of the Water Authority seemed like the best option at the time.”
“We decided to go this route because otherwise we would have to apply for 501(c)(3) status and that can take between two and 12 months,” Cole said.
Franklin County has had a task force meeting and discussing the prospect of providing broadband internet service to rural areas of the county since March of 2012 according to meeting notes posted online through the ConnectingAlabama.gov website.
The grants and bonds that could be secured for this project would go toward helping fund the initial build-out of the physical side of providing broadband Internet service.
“We do have many commitments from county and municipal assets to help with the build-out,” Hoehn said. “But funding would still be needed for equipment involved in the process.”
“This could end up as a county-structured utility if the amendment passes or we might be forced to look into a private and public partnership,” Hoehn said.
At a Broadband Internet Taskforce meeting in July Hoehn, said that if the amendment didn’t pass in November there would be other ways to fund it, but they would have to go through the process again and that would put the county that much further behind.
At the same meeting Cole said passing the bill and expanding the Water Authority services to include broadband Internet “won’t cost those who already have it and it won’t affect those who already have it.”
“It won’t hurt the service or cost anyone who has broadband now and it could perhaps increase the quality of your service or your options,” Cole said. “Passing this would really help those in the rural areas that need better access to high-speed Internet.”
Cole said that this is an important decision for residents in Franklin County.
“Any project without funding is dead,” Cole said. “We have an opportunity to get some grants for this project, but we need to be able to apply for them. If the people pass this amendment then we would have that opportunity.”