Time is ticking for the Cass County Commission to make a decision on the impending broadband project.
While Presiding Commissioner Jeff Cox has vocally committed to making sure the initiative would be feasible before any more taxpayer money is spent, a field representative from the United States Department of Agriculture had a lengthy discussion with county leaders about the project during the commissioner meeting Jan. 30.
In his report the commission, federal broadband representative Chris Collins announced Thursday that the county’s financial funding stream from the USDA has effectively been frozen due to the 2011 Broadband Single Audit Report not yet completed.
“We just need confidence, and communication,” said Collins, who said it’s been months since it was promised to have been completed.
Cass County Auditor Ron Johnson said the audit, which is being performed by an outside auditing firm, could be completed within 30 days.
Collins also told the commission that the county will be pressed for time in order to complete the project under the USDA’s completion deadline, should they decide to move forward in developing the broadband to full functionality.
If pursued, the county would only have about two years to construct the project.
Should commissioners agree to move ahead with the project, and if the county continues at the rapid pace they have been moving at in the last month, Collins said that the county could potentially be ready to start construction by May.
However, construction would have to move rather quickly as the county would be up against a strict deadline to have the entire project completed and bills collected by September 2015.
Collins recommended that the commissioners aim to complete the construction by June 2015 in order to give some leeway to ensure USDA funding. The penalty for missing the deadline would make the county responsible for all the loan and grants incurred from the project.
While it may appear the county is speeding through another exploratory phase of the project, Cox and the two associate commissioners have agreed that they will only be committed to the project if it will be a feasible endeavor.
“I think the new commission has made a very good attempt to try to fast track this entire process as much as we can, to try to gain a good idea of the feasibility of the project, but if we’re moving at such a rapid pace, and we’re racking up the engineering costs, and we don’t have a guarantee that those are going to be reimbursed through the USDA, what happens if the entire timeline gets thrown off and we rack up another several hundred thousand dollars,” Cox said.
“As far as that I’m concerned, I’m still looking at the feasibility of the project and whether it makes sense for the taxpayers. If we look at getting out, there’s consequences there, too. I have not made that decision, even though we are getting really close to that based on this.”
The next regularly-scheduled commissioner meeting will be 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14.