By Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org
Smaller townships and villages have had signs popping up more and more pertaining to broadband internet. Vote for or against. Now that debate has come to Manchester.
Manchester is unique because the township and village boundaries overlap. In the village, there are already high-speed internet providers. In the township, many addresses aren’t served by the big companies like Comcast and AT&T.
As a result, Ryan Klobucar, an engineer, and resident of Manchester, took action. He began a Facebook page called “Manchester Township Broadband Initiative” in December of 2016. Klobucar and a neighbor attended a Broadband Internet informational meeting around that time in neighboring Sharon Township and began to wonder if it would include Manchester.
“We’ve been struggling with the issue, I’ve been out here in Manchester for about 8 years now,” said Klobucar, who moved to Manchester from Phoenix, Arizona. “With no solutions coming we thought it’d be good (to go to the informational meeting). I talked to Gene DeRosset (Manchester Township Supervisor) and asked him about the possibility of bringing us in to do a presentation, so that’s how it all got started.”
After 8 years of looking for other possibilities and being customers of local fixed wireless providers Air Advantage and RuralReach and still having problems, seeing Sharon Township take the step of at least looking at faster internet options made Klobucar take action.
“We just kept hearing the excuse that everything will be upgraded this month, or this month this new thing is coming out. We just never saw it,” said Klobucar. “The thing that kind of drove it was that a township close to us was considering an alternative.”
A survey in the early 2000s by Comcast highlighted many broadband questions that still exist today.
“Comcast said it was like an 18-month return on investment for installing any new services which we’re just not going to be able to achieve based on the total population in the township,” said Klobucar. “I think we looked at a few other service providers that were local, but they just didn’t come out this far. No one else was going to do anything so we were going to try and help ourselves.”
On Mar. 13 the Manchester Township Board voted to contract CCG Consulting to run a feasibility study regarding the installation of broadband internet in the township. Since that announcement, concern has been voiced by members of the community that don’t want to pay for services they already have.
“The biggest reason we chose CCG is that they were the only ones that understand the dynamic of the village and the township overlapping,” said Klobucar. CCG has also performed the study for Sharon Township, and they have a May 8th vote for a ballot proposal that would potentially bring fiber-optic internet to every township home.
Klobucar and Manchester Township Board Member Lisa Moutinho, who volunteered to be on the committee concerning broadband in the township, spoke to The Sun Times about a level of misinformation that has been in the community since the feasibility study was approved by the Manchester Township Board.
“For the feasibility study vote, it just took the board to approve that,” said Klobucar. “And after that, I think people we’re thinking ‘Well I wasn’t there to vote’. Once the feasibility study was voted through, the funds were allocated from the board and the township to fund that. It’s not a new millage, it’s not a new anything, and I think that’s the hard part is getting the word out. The feasibility study is just an engineering study that’s going to look at what possibilities exist.”
“We do our budget from July – June and we just had to reallocate some funds to do it,” added Moutinho. “Yes the funds are there for it, and the board approved it. I think part of the problem with the recent information is that Sharon Township is much further ahead in the process than we are so you have a pro camp and an anti camp. People have access to the information there as far as what it would cost, things like that, and Manchester is not nearly as far in the process, so we simply want to find out what it would cost.”
Teri Aiuto, owner of Manchester Real Estate and who will be running for the State Representative seat in the 52nd District, disagrees with the proposal but still thinks that Sharon Township needs Broadband Internet. She talked to The Sun Times about why the May 8 proposal vote was a losing deal for Sharon Township.
“The proposal on the May 8 ballot is not the proposal that should be voted for Sharon Township because it is a losing deal for the taxpayers,” said Aiuto. “$5 million dollars and it’s unfair taxation without representation. The resident will be paying based on their state equalized value (SEV) and not their services provided. We can’t just snag up the first broadband proposal and jump on the bandwagon. This is only paying for the infrastructure. When I say it only pays for infrastructure, any of the overruns that they have, they’ll be paid for by the taxpayers. We need a third party that’s going to oversee this and all the other costs associated with getting this up and going. Management with the system, experts, installers, engineers, and service technicians, all of those people must be paid by the revenue generated from the sales of the service. If there are not enough customers, then the taxpayers will end up paying for all of these overruns. I realize that Sharon Township needs broadband but again this $4.9 million-dollar proposal, it’s not thought through carefully. There are so many loose ends.”
The Sharon Township proposal would cost $4.9 million total, with 3.2583 mills over 20 years. On top of the millage, if it were to pass, a $35-dollar charge would be issued per month for 100Mbps speeds.
Moutinho said there were plans to have a town hall meeting early in the summer to get more information out there before the feasibility study came back. At the Manchester Township Board Meeting earlier this month Moutinho touched on wanting to get the information out there available to the community and that a FAQ section would be added to the township website pertaining to the Broadband situation.
At the end of the summer, after the study comes back, Moutinho envisions another town hall meeting and encouraged the community to be involved throughout the process.
“I think people went from the feasibility study to the worst-case scenario which is a millage and an unknown amount of tax increases,” said Moutinho. “Then we have the challenges with the village because the village is part of the township. They have the benefit of having broadband and internet service, understandably they are concerned and that’s something we specifically asked in the study, was to help us determine the best course of action to handle that.”
Ron Milkey, a Manchester Township Trustee, and Mountino attended a village council meeting earlier this month explaining their situation and that they were getting a feasibility study done.
A unique partnership between the village, township, and State of Michigan has led to the development of parks and recreation. Both the village and township agreed working together to inform their constituents on all aspects of Broadband Internet was the best route.
Legislation is in the works that could exempt taxpayers in the area who already have broadband, but it has been stuck in a House committee for some time. House Bill 4162 would amend the Public Improvements Act and allow townships to use special assessments to fund broadband and communications projects in areas that still need high-speed internet.
“I think that’s one of the reasons to not stop either,” said Klobucar. “Even if we do the feasibility study and the ultimate response is we need to wait until a house bill passes, at least we know what the cost is and we know as soon as the house bill passes and how to break up the costs, maybe it’ll be a lot easier and we can move faster in the process with bringing it to the township. The goal for us was always to get the feasibility study done, so we can get concrete answers and give everyone the option to choose.”
With smaller communities across rural Michigan going through the same thing, Moutinho wanted Manchester to be an example for other communities that may have village and township boundaries overlap.
“The township isn’t dead set on anything passing, the only thing that’s passed is the feasibility study. It’s just one step at a time,” said Klobucar. “Everybody else is at step 12 and we are finally at step one. I would urge people if nothing happens the community will suffer soon, if internet doesn’t come, my family is considering our options.”