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Council votes against funds to match GEER grant

Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

Much of Monday night’s Harrison County Council meeting was spent discussing, and voting on, Allison Schalk’s request for the county to match $100,000 of a grant through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund she received from the state to provide high-speed internet coverage to more residents throughout the county.

The GEER was established by the federal CARES Act.

Schalk, representing Harrison County school districts, had hoped the county would be able to provide the funds needed to add another zone of internet coverage provided by Mainstream Fiber Networks and Portative Technologies.

While all the council members agreed they wanted to do what they could to provide better internet options for Harrison County residents, they ultimately voted not to give the $100,000 to Schalk in a 4-3 vote, with Gary Byrne, Holli Castetter, Kyle Nix and Ross Schulz opposing the request. Jennie Capelle, Donnie Hussung and Brad Wiseman voted against the motion.

Nix had hoped to table the vote to the next meeting as he noted a northern township was doing a study on tower space opportunities north of S.R. 64 that would allow for point-to-point internet coverage. He said he believes there could be potential overlap of the two projects and, if Schalk waited to continue on with hers after the other study is complete, she may be able to redirect her zone coverage.

However, Schalk, who said she has been working on this project since July and can’t proceed further with grant funds until she determines how much money she could be allocated from the county, had hoped for an answer at Monday’s meeting in order to move forward.

“We have people ready to be hooked up to the service,” Schalk said. “At this point, I’m in a holding pattern with our grant money. Making our final choice of zones and who we can provide service to is impacted on whether the county agrees to join in or not. I set out to do something good for the community, and, honestly, it has been discouraging.”

Schalk will still be able to use the $404,700 from the grant to cover subscription fees and internet service to some residents of the community.

Later in the meeting, Hussung presented the second reading of the 2021 Harrison County budget, which passed 7-0.

The 2021 budget, which had its first reading during the council’s Oct. 13 meeting, includes $11,807,009 in the general fund with a tax levy of $4.4 million and a tax rate of 26.89 cents per $100 assessed valuation; the highway department was budgeted $3,436,044; EMS and fire were budgeted $723,918, with a tax levy of $595,000 and a 3.64-cent tax rate; Parks and Recreation was budgeted $1,203,278, with a tax levy of $610,000 and a 3.73-cent tax rate. The riverboat fund has a budget of $10,885,590 with no tax rate.

In other business, Rebecca Reed, representing the Heth-Washington Fire District, approached the board to request $52,000; $50,000 of those funds would be to continue work on the fire house at Mauckport, and the remaining money would be to correct an error in the budget request.

The Harrison County Coroner’s office is asking for an additional $30,000, as it noted the office is $10,000 short for its projected expenditures for the year after averaging about 3.4 autopsies a month, which is more than the office normally conducts.

Both the fire district and coroner’s office matters will be voted on at the council’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m. at the government center in Corydon.