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Aerial view of downtown Yellow Springs in early August. (Drone photo by Bryan Cady)

Village Council finalizes building department, eyes municipal broadband

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At its regular meeting, held online via Zoom on Tuesday, Sept. 7, Village Council approved the final measure needed to create a building department for Yellow Springs, which is to pass an ordinance creating a fee schedule for permitting requests. The process started in July, and Village Manager Josué Salmerón announced at the meeting that the Village’s application to the Ohio Board of Building Standards had been approved.

“We have an economic imperative to have a streamlined process,” Salmerón said. “If this measure is approved, we can start accepting applications tomorrow.”

Before Council approved the legislation unanimously, Council member Lisa Kreeger questioned the emphasis placed on the lower fee cost, expressing concerns about the lower cost not covering unexpected expenses.

“It did make me concerned that if we are really trying to price it down that we are not building in enough buffer or contingency if there’s unanticipated issues,” Kreeger said.

Salmerón responded, saying that 10% of the fees listed in the fee schedule go directly to the Village to cover the costs of running the program, including labor, technology and state fees, “but we will be keeping a close eye on it over the next six months.”

“The team feels confident,” he continued.

Council President Brian Housh asked for follow-up on the transition from the Greene County building department to the Yellow Springs department, to which Salmerón explained that the two departments would begin working in tandem for a 60-day period.

“We called the property owners and explained that we could start taking applications,” Salmerón said.

Salmerón continued, explaining that the County will finish any projects that went through their building department, preferably within a 60-day timeframe. Those who have projects that will extend outside of that 60-day window will continue to work with Greene County’s building department.

Council member Kevin Stokes congratulated Salmerón and the team for their hard work.

“I want to commend you and your team,” Council member Kevin Stokes said. “I was surprised to see it come to fruition as quickly as it has.”

Salmerón also said that the Village team is working to better streamline processes in the future.

He said that the team wants to link the iWorQs system with the NIC portal through a user dashboard. iWorQs is a service request platform where villagers can report non-emergency issues.

Doing so would allow users to submit projects electronically. Currently, those pursuing a project will have to make a trip to the Bryan Center to submit forms and pay the associated fees.

Using the iWorQs system will also improve the records of changes to properties, Salmerón said. The system attaches issued permits to the property’s parcel ID, so that if a property changes ownership, the record remains with the property.

“This has been a multi-step process, and I think everyone has done a great job,” Housh said.

In other Council business Sept. 7:

Council also had a first reading of an ordinance that would establish a public utility for municipal broadband and approve the creation of a utility fund. The ordinance is the next step in the process following a 2020 resolution “committing to the provision of municipal broadband in Yellow Springs” and a 2021 resolution pursuing grant monies to ensure equity, inclusion and access to broadband services.

According to Salmerón, the pandemic and associated relief dollars have allowed the Village to focus on the fiber network project.

“We’ve done a lot of work on this, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said.

So far, Village crews have extended services to the downtown area, but have built infrastructure to be able to serve Hawthorne Place Apartments, the apartments on Corry Street and other “strategic locations such as Gaunt Park,” Salmerón said.

In his update for the Tuesday, Sept. 7, meeting, Salmerón shared that the Village received a Broadband Ohio grant for $300,000. The grant allows the Village to “build out fiber infrastructure and connect up to 300 homes and businesses.”

The Village has partnered with MVECA, a local technology consortium headed by villager Thor Sage, its executive director, to extend broadband services.

“We have an incredible local asset, one of 18 IT service providers in the state,” Salmerón said.

“We have been able to deliver on the building department, so I think we can deliver on this.”

Council member Laura Curliss asked how the burden of building, maintaining and servicing a new utility would affect the workload of maintenance and billing staff. Salmerón said that the Village will outsource some of the services, such as maintenance and building. In regard to billing, Salmerón said: “We can add this to the existing billing process.”

The price of broadband services is split into two tiers, according to speed: the lower tier costs $45 for 300 megabits per second; the higher costs $65 for 1 gigabit. Salmerón added that low income residents can access an additional lower tier that reduces the cost of 300 Mbts to $25.

After Salmerón’s remarks, Sage addressed Council, noting that pursuing local broadband would save consumers money while giving them faster broadband speeds.

“I think that this is a good project,” he said. “It’s good when local governments take local control over access to broadband.”

At their next meeting, Sept. 20, Council will give the ordinance a second reading, which will include time for public participation.

Additional coverage of the Sept. 7 meeting will appear in next week’s News.

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