Montezuma County commissioners on Monday said they needed more information before they could commit to a sales tax option to fund the county’s high-speed internet project.
“There are too many unknowns for us to make a commitment,” Commissioner James Lambert said.
The county’s “Fiber to the Premises” project seeks to bring high-speed broadband to every household in Montezuma County through fiber-optics lines. County information technology director Jim McClain said fiber could bring internet speeds to some parts of the county that are up to 200 times faster than current speeds. He said officials have discussed an option for a sales tax on the ballot for the November election.
However, an explicit cost for the project is not yet known, McClain said. Commissioner Keenan Ertel said he had a “queasy feeling” about the costs involved with the project.
Officials have discussed laying aerial fiber along Empire Electric Association poles, but Ertel said the county would need to pay Empire an $11.75 rental fee per year for each pole used. Cortez general services director Rick Smith admitted that pole rental fees would be an ongoing operational cost, but would be cheaper than burying fiber.
McClain said he and other officials would find the most cost-effective way to carry out the project.
Ertel said the county is “long overdue” to institute a sales tax that would bring in more revenue to the county. He noted that the city of Cortez budget is supplemented by a significant sales tax. Ertel said the county’s budget relies too much on revenue from Kinder Morgan, which can fluctuate based on the gas industry’s performance.
“We have too many of our eggs in one basket,” he said.
Ertel suggested a sales tax that would not only help fund the broadband effort, but also contribute revenue toward other county infrastructure needs.
Commissioner Larry Don Suckla said he thought voters would be unlikely to approve a sales tax unless it was tied to a specific project, such as the fiber project.
McClain said other Colorado counties overdue for an Internet infrastructure update are watching Montezuma County to see which direction this county chooses. “It’s not as much about us as it is people 10 years down the road,” he said.
Suckla said high-speed internet in the county would open up possibilities for expanded education and telemedicine opportunities.
“This internet project will be very beneficial way down the road,” he said. “The possibility of this becoming great will put us a notch above.”