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Grant could expand broadband services

Grant could expand broadband services Grant could expand broadband services
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

Another attempt to bring broadband service to residents of Harrison County could happen.

Cory Cochran, executive director of River Hills, an economic development district regional planning commission, came before the commissioners to include them in a conversation he has had with community organizations and leaders within the county.

Cochran explained to the commissioners last Tuesday night (moved from Monday due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday) they have been researching a financial assistance program through the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture called the Community Connect Program. The program, which can grant up to $3 million, helps rural communities extend access where broadband service is least likely to be commercially available, but where it can make a tremendous difference in the quality of life for people and businesses. The grant would be able to fund the building of infrastructure needed for broadband services, Cochran said.

However, Cochran added it will take numerous steps to be able to apply for the program.

In order to apply, which Cochran said they hope to do by December 2021, a broadband plan would have to be created. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture will accept a plan specific to Harrison County or a comprehensive plan that would contain a broadband aspect within it.

Cochran suggested the county fund the plan or that they could apply for funds through Indiana’s Office of Community & Rural Affairs. If using the OCRA route, applications for grant funds close on July 15.

“To be eligible for OCRA funds, you have to meet low to moderate income,” Cochran said. “And based on the census, we do not currently meet that. Therefore, our first step would be to perform an income survey with a range of people who live within the county.”

Income surveys are good for five years and will be sent out through the mail. Once that is complete, then a planning grant could be applied for through OCRA.

Cochran appeared before the commissioners to seek approval for River Hills to move forward with the income survey portion of this process. He noted that, after it is complete, he would return before moving ahead any further with the project to discuss their findings from the survey.

Commissioner Jim Heitkemper made a motion, seconded by Nelson Stepro, to allow Cochran and his team to begin the income survey. The vote passed unanimously.

In other business at the meeting, Darrell Voelker, director of the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., reported back with his findings from a recent business survey he completed. His hopes were to apply for an OCRA grant that, if approved, would provide $10,000 to numerous businesses. However, he only received 14 responses from the 600 surveys he sent out. Of those responses, 11 were highly interested in applying for the grant.

He approached the board to request signatures on documents to apply for the grant now that he is aware businesses in the county would be interested.

The commissioners voted unanimously in agreement to sign the documents and move forward in the grant application process.

Miranda Edge, the county Extension director, approached the commissioners for the second time with hopes to apply for funding from the Harrison County Community Foundation to implement a rainscape education program, which would result in a constructed rain garden for the public.

All commissioners were in support of her idea, and the motion to allow Edge to apply for the grant money passed 3-0.

The commissioners also passed unanimously to review and potentially accept a proposal to upgrade the camera system at the county courthouse. The main feature that would be upgraded would be the camera quality.

The commissioners’ next regular meeting is set for Monday, Feb. 1, at 8:30 a.m. at the government center. They are scheduled to have a joint meeting with the county council on Wednesday, Feb. 3, at 3:30 p.m.