In November, voters in Montezuma County and Dolores may vote to opt out of Senate Bill 152, a 2005 law that restricts local governments from building or investing in new broadband infrastructure.
If voters choose to opt out of SB 152, the sales tax question then could go on the November 2017 ballot.
“We’re focusing on educating the public on opting out of SB 152 because we can’t fix our internet problem unless that happens,” said Chelsea Jones, of the Montezuma Community Economic Development Association.
Mancos opted out during the spring election. Cortez is not affected by SB 152 because it developed fiber-optic internet infrastructure before the law was enacted.
Currently, more than 60 Colorado communities have opted out of the law.
The $39 million broadband internet project has been delayed until 2017 while officials in Cortez and Montezuma County officials explore options and try to lower its cost.
Planners initially pushed for voters to support the proposed 1 percent sales tax to fund the broadband project in the November election. But because of incomplete plans, public uncertainty and a missed deadline with the Colorado Department of Revenue, county officials delayed the sales tax question until next year.
“We want to make sure it is the best plan for the local community and get the price down,” said Jones.
The Montezuma County Commission, local town boards and the Ute Mountain Ute tribal council have expressed support for the ambitious broadband project.
“Access to high-speed affordable internet is important for our future,” Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek told The Journal.
“It’s key for attracting new businesses, for educating our kids who rely on it for school,” she wrote. “It gives us more opportunities like telemedicine, and provides incentive for people to move here and telecommute.”
Delaying the project was disappointing for some, but for others, it provided some breathing room.
“A project of this magnitude and expense should be thoroughly studied by a qualified engineering firm before it would be placed on the ballot,” stated Dolores resident William Taylor. “A complete study would take a year in all likelihood, but at least the facts would be known.”
Montezuma County commissioners also have said they needed more time to work out details of the internet plan.
“Maybe we have not looked at all the options,” commissioner Larry Don Suckla said in early August. “This gives us time to think it over.”
“We need more time to figure out the details,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel.