WINTHROP - A retired U.S. Army sergeant is fighting City Hall over whether the City of Winthrop should participate in a proposed $70 million fiber optic project that would provide high-speed Internet, cable TV and telephone service to Sibley and Renville counties.
Dale Malheim disagrees so strongly with the Winthrop City Council's approval of a publicly-owned project, he began circulating a petition calling for a city-wide referendum on whether the city should be part of the project.
Malheim said he showed his petition seeking a public vote to 95 people in five days and only four people disagreed with it.
"Most people I talked to were surprised they wouldn't get a chance to vote," Malheim added. "I don't care so much about the project itself anymore. The petition isn't for or against the project. It's just that there was a public vote for a $1 million fire barn but issuing about $4.9 million in revenue bonds for the project. Even if revenue bonds allow them to do this (without a vote), that doesn't make it right."
According to RS Fiber, bonds would be issued to private investors and will be repaid with subscriber revenue. If the network fails to produce enough revenue to make debt payments, cities and counties would have the option of making up the difference from tax revenues, but would be under no obligation to do so.
Malheim believes the Winthrop City Council will act on his petition at its Monday, May 7 meeting that begins at 7 p.m.
It appears most every other public entity in Sibley and Renville counties including county commissioners, city councils and township board of supervisors has approved resolutions supporting the project except the Arlington City Council.
Fiber to the Home (FTTH) is advertised as not using tax dollars to build a network or back revenue bonds that would be sold to finance the project.
Proponents of FTTH say the project will offer:
Lower prices and much faster Internet speed for city and rural customers than they are paying for and using now.
Cable service (TV) service will provide "crystal clear" pictures and local programming like high school sports, government meetings and other productions that won't fade or be lost due to the weather.
KEYC Channel 12 and Spanish-language TV stations will be part of the basic package.
New tele-medicine opportunities that will improve area health care delivery.
A permanent, positive investment in the future with cooperative ownership that can spur economic development.
Faster Internet service creates more online capability to schools, businesses, and governments.
New jobs and money now sent out of the county will remain at home.
Current low interest rates make the project more financially feasible.
Sibley County Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Tim Dolan said the fiber optic project concept began several years ago when the Winthrop City Council began comparing city and rural Internet service.
"I live in rural Winthrop. People living in town can do things online that I can't," Dolan said. "Internet services vary on where you live."
Winthrop Mayor Dave Trebelhorn said the project's joint powers board would hire a system operator for the publicly-owned project that his forecast to have positive cash flow by its fourth year.
For more information, visit www.rsfiber.com/
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at email@example.com