Ambitious broadband funding plan may save local Craig dollars, leverage state, federal grant funds | CraigDailyPress.com

Ambitious broadband funding plan may save local Craig dollars, leverage state, federal grant funds

Lauren Blair

Local officials are hustling to bring improved broadband connectivity to Craig and Moffat County, and some creative strategizing may mean local governments won't have to foot any of the roughly $4 million bill except for in-kind donations.

At a time when the city and county are both extremely strapped for cash but also deadset on developing the economy, the proposal is good news, though it comes with no guarantees.

The draft budget, presented to Moffat County Commissioners and Craig City Council this month, hinges on linking two large grants together, positioning each to serve as matching funds for the other.

"If I play my cards just right, they can track (through the agencies) at the same rate and fund each other," Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership Executive Director Michelle Balleck told commissioners.

“The alternative is we apply now (for Assistance to Coal Communities funds) by end of this week, and I would need a $1 million to $1.8 million local match.”Michelle Balleck Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership Executive Director

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Balleck is nailing down a final budget this week for building out middle mile broadband infrastructure in Craig before applying for a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affair's Broadband Program due Aug. 1.

The DOLA grant request will likely total an estimated $1.8 million, which would potentially be matched by a grant request of equal proportion from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Decisions on the grant requests won't be announced until Dec. 1.

Balleck reported that one DOLA representative described the funding proposal as very "creative," but that officials from both agencies said it could work.

"The alternative is we apply now (for Assistance to Coal Communities funds) by end of this week, and I would need a $1 million to $1.8 million local match," Balleck told commissioners.

The EDA also awards Assistance to Coal Communities grants, which Balleck considered applying for; however, it would require an up-front cash match of 50 percent. At a time when both the city and county are having to slash expenses and cut personnel to balance their budgets, contributing to the required $1.8 million in matching funds wouldn't be possible.

As part of the deal, the city and county would co-own the infrastructure, and would likely outsource management of operations and maintenance to a private company.

The draft budget hinges on an in-kind match of power poles and fiber by Yampa Valley Electric Association, at a roughly estimated value of $200,000. City Council likewise agreed to provide an in-kind match of rent and utilities for a hub site, potentially at the City of Craig, at an estimated value of $52,000 for a three-year term.

"This is important for our community," said Mayor John Ponikvar. "It's not about getting ahead of the world, it's about keeping up with it, and this is what we have to do to stay competitive with the rest of world."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.