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Fairgrounds negotiates fiberoptic connection


November 7, 2019

POMEROY-Diana Ruchert, Port of Garfield Director discussed the County’s request to include the Fairgrounds in the first phase of the Port’s Broadband System project during the regular County Commissioners’ meeting on October 28.

The Port is utilizing grants funds awarded by the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB), to complete Phase 1. This will allow the extension of the fiber network to the intersection of Gould City Road and Highway 12, which does not include the Fairgrounds.

After completing the network design process and receiving construction estimates, the Port estimates the first phase will exceed the grant amount by about $180,000. Therefore, the estimated $75,000 additional cost to extend the fiber to the Fairgrounds would only add to the excess cost. The Port Commissioners have concluded, that if the County Commissioners would commit to paying half of the added cost, $37,000, they would be able to include the Fairgrounds in Phase 1.

The County also inquired about adding the residents of Pataha in Phase 1, but that would cost an extra $274,000. Ruchert stated that the fiber will reach Pataha eventually, either through more grant funds or by using revenue from the first phase connections once the system is up and running.

It is extremely important to the County Commissioners that the Fairgrounds connection gets top priority due to the fact that it has been chosen as the location that would serve as a command center in the case of a major emergency in the area.

Ruchert indicated that the Port has already planned to apply for an additional CERB grant to offset the excess expense over the current grant. However, there is a small window of opportunity to apply for the grant, and she would need to know from the County Commissioners if they want to commit to half of the extra funds needed to include the Fairgrounds. The County has already committed to contributing $100,000 to the broadband project.

County Commissioner Bob Johnson asked if the Port would be agreeable to structuring the additional $37,000 as a loan, to be paid back once revenues begin coming in. Ruchert said that it could be worked out that way. Commissioner Justin Dixon asked if the contribution of $37,000 would guarantee the fiber to the Fairgrounds as early as possible, and Ruchert assured him it would.

Dixon suggested that the County give $40,000 to the Port, with $20,000 being a loan to be repaid with revenues received upon completion of the system, and the remaining $20,000 be added to the previously committed $100,000 as the County’s contribution to the broadband system. He added that he is frustrated that the City of Pomeroy has not contributed at all to the project.

Dixon asked Ruchert to give them a week to discuss the terms of providing the funds, but assured her that the County is committed to an additional $40,000 to get the Fairgrounds included in the first phase. Commissioners McCabe and Johnson agreed.

Ruchert also reported on the progress of the project, stating that they will advertise for construction bids in December 2019, start construction in January 2020, and projected completely installed by October 2020.

Pocket iNet has already connected fiber to a few businesses along Main Street; however, the customers must pay for a connection fee at this time. Ruchert added that Inland Cellular is very interested in working with the Port to lease fiber to connect to their cellular towers to extend service out to the county residents.

The Garfield County Health District Martha Lanman, Public Health Administrator, reported that she has met with hospital administrators from the Dayton Hospital, Tri-State Memorial Hospital in Clarkston, and Quality Behavioral Health regarding the implementation of tele-health services access. She has learned that it will be crucial to have high-speed internet service through the new broadband system being set up by the Port of Garfield, as well as the Port of Columbia.

The Health District has recently received a new grant for $75,000 per year for three years, which will be distributed across three counties, Asotin, Garfield and Columbia, which will be available to use for the new tele-health services when they are ready for use.

Lanman also reported that with the new restrictions mandated by the State of Washington on the sales of vaping products, less taxes will be collected, which will affect some of the Health District’s funding for tobacco education. They have received $42,000 for next year, but the amount to expect is unknown.

Lanman asked the County Commissioners to approve and sign a resolution that would accept a contract cancellation by Whitman County, who has been providing food inspections and septic tank inspections for Garfield County. The contract will be in effect until November 15, 2019, at which time Garfield County will need to make new arrangements for these services. Lanman will contact other counties to find a replacement. The County Commissioners also approved and signed a resolution for the 2019-2020 ABC Dental contract, which provides special training of dentists for patients aged 0 to 5.

Other Health District activities include distributing updated vaping law flyers to local businesses be bring raise public awareness.

The Health District has made up a Garfield County Reference Guide that includes specific resources, addresses, phone numbers and hours of operation for such services as Emergency, Counseling, Dental, Vision, Education and Training, Senior Care, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Transitional Housing, Food Assistance, Medical and Public Health, Community Services, Health Insurance, Birth Control, Pregnancy Support, and more. The guide also lists the locations, dates, and contact numbers for monthly community meetings. These guides will be available to the public at the Hospital District offices.

The County Employees Group, represented by Katie Magill, Holly McConnell and Rachel Anderson, accepted the offer of a 3% pay increase for County employees, and the agreement to change insurance providers, going with Premera. The County will continue providing the insurance premiums for employees.

The County Commissioners signed a letter to be sent to the City of Pomeroy regarding a contract for law enforcement and court services for 2020. The letter outlines an increase of 2.8% in fees for these services, setting the fee for law enforcement provided by the County to the City at $21,351.26, and for court services at $1,830.27.

Rachel Anderson, Director of Aging and Long-Term Care (ALTC) of Garfield County, presented a copy of a recent assessment of the ALTC. Anderson added that she is working on a proposal summarizing her job duties, demonstrating a work load increase, to support her request for a pay raise. She also discussed possibility of establish a Housing Authority in Garfield County so Section 8 Housing benefits could be made available to some of the current residents in the county. She stated that Garfield County is the only county in the state that does not currently have a Housing Authority.

Commissioner Bob Johnson commented that he would only favor a Housing Authority if it was truly needed for current residents. Commissioner Dixon suggested waiting to discuss the matter further until December.

The County Commissioners signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the County Emergency Management Services and the Garfield County Transportation Authority (GCTA) which make GCTA vans available to the County during emergency events.

Grant Morgan, County Engineer and Director of Public Works, reported about the County Road Administration Board (CRAB) meeting which he attended. He stated that the state legislature is to cutback drastically on transportation funding, effecting other types of funding, such as the gas tax revenues, needed to make up shortfalls. The trend has about 60% support in the legislature, and he fears that public transit will be hit the hardest.

The next meetings of the Garfield County Commissioners will be held Monday, November 4, 2019, at 9 a.m., and the following week on Tuesday, November 12, 2019, at 9 a.m., at the courthouse. The Garfield County Courthouse will be closed on Monday, November 11, 2019, for Veterans Day.


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