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Village Council seeks $4 million grant for broadband infrastructure

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At its Monday, Aug. 16, regular meeting, Council voted unanimously to apply for a $4 million federal grant to build broadband infrastructure in the Village.

“It’s a great opportunity. I don’t want to miss it,” Village Manager Josué Salmerón said at the meeting, held remotely over Zoom due to a state of emergency in the village related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tim Barhorst and Thor Sage spoke in support of the new broadband utility and grant opportunity, with Barhorst emphasizing that it was needed to address inequality.

The Village has started to take steps to set up a new municipal utility to deliver internet service to the 1,800 homes and businesses in town. The grant proposal would be to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Council member Laura Curliss said she was concerned about moving forward on the grant and utility without a “viable business plan,” including a survey from existing customers who have been given internet access with coronavirus relief funds. She also submitted a memo raising 13 questions about the utility, including the risks.

“It’s a big lift. We’re starting another business in our utility department,” Curliss said.

Salmerón defended the proposal, saying the Village has both a business plan and a “critical need” to improve internet accessibility in town.

In other Council business at its Aug. 16 meeting:

Nod to review board review
Council unanimously approved a resolution to retain a Columbus attorney to review a proposal to create a citizen review board that would investigate police misconduct. Village Solicitor Breanne Parcels recommended the attorney Larry James, of Crabbe, Brown and James, who she said was involved on a national task force for citizen review boards. Other attorneys recommended to her were too expensive, Parcels said.

In a 3–2 vote, Council added an amendment to the legislation to remove from review parts of the proposal that had not been approved by The 365 Project, a local nonprofit that promotes racial equity. Council members MacQueen and Curliss voted against the removal, with Curliss defending the section in question for including possible funding ideas.

Healthcare for officials?
Council voted 4–1 to offer elected officials, including Council members and the Village mayor, the ability to buy health insurance through the Village of Yellow Springs’ health insurance provider, as long as it didn’t increase costs. The measure would only apply to future Council members, not existing ones, unless they are re-elected. Curliss voted against it even though she initially raised the idea, airing frustration that the process took so long and that she didn’t have a hand in drafting the legislation.

Financial audit complete
Council briefly discussed an outside financial audit of the Village recently completed. Obtained by the News from a public records request, the audit includes two noncompliance citations and several recommendations. The citations were related to the lack of a public records policy in the Village’s general policies and procedures and the improper transfer of kilowatt hour tax revenues into the general fund, which instead went to the electric fund. The auditor also recommended that the Village establish policies for working from home and preparing financial statements and maintain a minimum number of funds.

Also at the meeting, Village Finance Director Matt Dillon shared the third-quarter financials, which showed that Village spending is under the proposed budget by $670,000 due largely to higher-than-expected property and income tax.

Village goals discussed
Council members discussed the Village’s progress toward its nine 2021 goals: provide affordable community; support residential development; repair and maintain infrastructure; achieve a structurally balanced budget; promote sustainable growth; ensure social justice; facilitate active transportation; deepen environmental resiliency; and maintain village vitality.

Curliss suggested that market-rate, moderate-income homes are more needed than low-income housing, and argued that Council members sponsor all legislation rather than “rubber stamping” laws pushed by those who are not on Council.

MacQueen urged active transportation and climate and sustainability planning and more Council retreats for “robust policy conversations.”

Council member Lisa Kreeger said the Village should focus on the basics, such as infrastructure, utilities and efficiencies, as well as arts, culture and social justice concerns. She also urged more “intentionality” around greenspace.

Council member Kevin Stokes touched on the need for zoning changes to allow more multifamily units and suggested that the Oberer development could benefit the housing market. He said his other priorities were infrastructure and social justice.

Council member Brian Housh said downtown parking is a priority, along with making sure the village is ready for economic development.

Other items
• Council voted unanimously to apply for a $1.2 million state grant to upgrade water lines and mains in town.

• During the Citizens Concerns portion of the meeting, Mitzi Miller suggested the Village invest in sidewalk upgrades to improve walkability in the village. John Hempfling raised concerns about a Village censure of Board of Zoning Appeals member Matt Raska for penning a letter to the editor of the News that argued for zoning changes.

• Salmerón detailed Village responses to COVID-19, including new signage, masks for downtown businesses and a banner that reads: “Wear One: Protecting Each Other.” Miami Township Fire-Rescue, Yellow Springs Police and the Village met together and decided not to reduce occupancy limits at downtown businesses, leaving it up to the shops themselves.

• Salmerón shared that the Village will soon collect and analyze data about local police encounters with citiz\ens using surveys. After interactions with the public, police will hand out cards with a QR code that will take them to a survey about their experience. The YSPD is also tracking foot patrols and will soon track bike patrols.

• Council met in executive session for the purposes of the appointment and employment of a Village official.

Council’s next regular meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m., via Zoom.

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