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Enhanced internet service request tabled

Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

The Harrison County Council was approached Monday night by Allison Schalk, representing Harrison County school districts, to hear her request for $100,000 from the county to be put with her grant for $404,700 from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) to provide families throughout the county with better performing internet service.

Due to the stipulations and guidelines of the grant, Schalk explained to the council the money can’t be used to build infrastructure for the service. And, due to the spotty hot-spot and cell-phone service, Schalk said it would be best, in her opinion, to use the money to cover about 400 subscriptions to internet providers. After talking with Portative Technologies and Mainstream Fiber Networks with this idea, they agreed to cover infrastructure costs.

Schalk had previously said at the county commissioner’s meeting last Monday that the $100,000 request would cover, if approved, extra costs that the state hadn’t approved for provider subscription fees. However, she said she had just received word that they will now be able to use grant funds to cover the entirety of the subscription cost. Now, the $100,000, she said, can be used to fund an additional zone area for internet, which would, depending on which zone area was chosen, provide internet access options to 68 or 82 homes.

Schalk said the money from the county should represent so much more than just those homes though. Because of the way fiber-internet connections are set up, providers can’t get to the next expansion zone until they get through prior areas. So, funding this zone would make further fiber expansions possible, she said. Schalk also noted that a committee needs formed to follow through on internet and broadband issues.

“This is a community problem that will require a community solution,” Schalk said. “Internet is no longer a luxury; it is necessary for people. People don’t need it for Netflix or TikTok; people need it to schedule telehealth appointments and to do school work.”

Councilman Kyle Nix said that, if the money is given, it is important they know exactly where it is going so they aren’t facing issues like in the past of giving money to similar issues and not seeing a return on investment.

Donnie Hussung, who chairs the council, agreed with Nix that the devil is in the details on this issue and, hopefully, in the next couple of weeks they will be able to determine fund allocations and the correct wording for their involvement. This issue was tabled until the meeting on Monday, Oct. 26.

Councilwoman Holli Castetter brought up the fact that Harrison County Parks superintendent Larry Shickles had said that, if given the funds for the recently approved aquatics manager position, they would be able to take a $5,000 funding cut in their part-time employee budget. However, it was not reduced at that time.

Castetter made the motion, which was seconded by Gary Byrne, to cut the parks department budget by $5,000. The vote passed unanimously.

In other business Monday night, it was recommended by Byrne that all nonprofits that receive any form of county assistance through riverboat revenue need to disclose salary and benefit packages of each employee to the county auditor’s office. He said this would be a good way to ensure they know exactly how funds are being allocated and spent.

The motion passed 5-2, with Hussung and Councilwoman Jennie Capelle opposing, as they both said they simply needed more time to consider this issue.

The council also unanimously approved the $165,000  request to purchase a body scanner for inmate check in at the Harrison County Jail, which is expected to be eventually reimbursed by the federal CARES Act, and unanimously approved approximately $282,000 to cover the shortfall of Harrison County Hospital this year.