Meeting Minutes of the Second Bond Hearing and Public Benefit Hearing on the Broadband Improvement Project; Minutes of the Select Board’s Regular Meeting

 Location:  Town offices Date:  February 20, 2020
 Opened:    6:00 pm Adjourned:  9:15 pm

Select Board Members: Jay Jacobs, Kathy Scott, Andrea Hodson

Broadband Committee Representatives: Andrew Maneval and Doug Norman

Consolidated Communications Representatives: Mike Cannon and Jeff McIver

Members of the public: Harry Wolhandler, Ned Hulbert, Charles Michal, Ranae O’Neil, David O’Neil, Dennis Fallon, Ned Hulbert, Earl Horn, Pam Thayer

Bond Hearing / Public Benefit Hearing on Broadband
Mr. Maneval reviewed that the purpose of the hearing was to offer the public a chance to ask questions about the proposed project and to give the Broadband Committee the opportunity to establish, as required by New Hampshire’s municipal finance statutes, that the Public Benefit of the Broadband Improvement Project outweighs the private benefit. He added that following the bond hearing, at the Select Board’s regular meeting, the committee hoped to receive the formal position from the Select Board on this matter.  Mr. Maneval reviewed once again how the public benefit was calculated in relation to housing prices and internet speeds; he also explained the requirements under the terms of the contract and the bond. There were no questions from the audience regarding the calculations or the public benefit aspect.

Mr. Maneval proceeded to the matter of the proposed contract and the financing of the project. Harry Wolhandler asked about the Fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technology and the equipment to be installed on poles and within subscribers’ homes. Consolidated representatives explained the infrastructure and how backup, and network redundancies, would handle any outages. CCI anticipates that, if the warrant article passes, they would being to order the necessary equipment immediately and that buildout would begin and take off in early summer. CCI explained that customers would be turned on as the buildout occurred rather than having to wait until the entire network was complete.

Charles Michal inquired about the terms of the bond, tax implications and how the project would be accounted for in the town’s books. Mr. Maneval explained there would be no cost to, or effect on, taxpayers or the town, that the term of the bond would be 20 years, to be paid off by the $10 surcharge on broadband subscribers’ monthly bills, with pre-payment of principal and interest by Consolidated as a requirement in the contract. Mr. Maneval reiterated that the project is to make fiber available to every home in town. As for the town’s means of accounting for the project, and reporting sources of funds, Mr. Maneval stated he believes it will be gross accounting, showing as both income and expense, and that the accountants would provide any additional needed information. The committee noted that Chesterfield also provides a model for how such projects are accounted for.

CCI representatives explained how the network would be constructed and how customers would be brought on line. They described the anticipated timeframe and how they would serve homes far from the road.  They also shared samples of rate plans and pricing, similar to Chesterfield’s. Again it was noted that customers who like their existing copper-based service can keep it.

Broadband Committee and town officials discussed what information would be helpful for members of the public who haven’t attended the bond hearings or Community Conversation on the project. Members of the broadband committee are drafting a one-pager, and also will make available informational slides ahead of time, including posting on the website. Committee members also will be present prior to Town Meeting to answer questions.  CCI also offered to provide any slides that might be helpful.

As there were no additional questions, at 7:00 pm, the second and final bond hearing was adjourned and the Select Board proceeded with its regular meeting. The Select Board acknowledged receipt of the proposed finding provided by Bond Counsel, based on the research and data developed by the Broadband Committee. Kathy Scott then moved to adopt the public benefit finding related to a public-private partnership for the Broadband Infrastructure Project. Andrea Hodson seconded. All voted in favor.

Mr. Maneval then shared provisions of the proposed contract, from language on default clauses to language related to guaranteed service levels and pricing. A couple of items are still under negotiation with Consolidated. Mr. Maneval will report back to the SB upon hearing from CCI.

Silver Lake Association– Dennis Fallon of the SLA requested that the town reimburse the association for the other half of the expense for the port-o-potty at Silver Lake, a total cost of roughly $400. The town covers this expense fully for sanitation facilities at other town beaches. The board explained the reason for the difference, noting the locations of town-owned property, and further considered Mr. Fallon’s request. Given that the 2020 proposed budget had already been finalized, the board requested that the SLA return with the request at the beginning of 2021 next year, earlier in the budget preparation.

Earl Horn/Trails Committee– The SB accepted the photos of damage to the Rail Trail, submitted by Mr. Horn, and thanked him. The SB noted it would schedule a meeting with Trails Committee members and the Road Agent to discuss and plan repair to damaged sections.

150th/Sesquicentennial– The SB discussed process and auditing requirements for submission of private donations, noting the proposed Warrant Article allowing the town to accept unanticipated funds. Committee representatives will work with the SB office to coordinate spreadsheet completion and itemization of orders and donations. Ranae O’Neil also shared schedule and event updates.

Other business
The SB made a note to bring up with the Traffic Safety Committee the question of making the intersection of Brown and Seaver/Macveagh Roads a 4-way stop, given hazardous near-misses and drivers not slowing down or stopping.

The SB discussed a personnel matter with a department head regarding a resident complaint about an employee. The Department Head will address the situation with the employee.

The SB extended appreciation to the Town Clerk and all the staff who helped with the Presidential Primary.

The board discussed with the Road Agent the potential availability of an excavator. Mr. Tarr will explore further. Separately the Road Agent notified the board of the city of Keene’s request to access Woodward Pond via Harrisville roads for clearing and dam work this summer. The Road Agent will keep the board posted.

The SB discussed the proposed purchase of the gravel pit and the commitment to keep the dialague open with Jaquith Road area residents.

The SB finalized the Town Report for Friday delivery to printer.

Legal update– The SB acknowledged receipt of notification from legal counsel that the Superior Court case filed by John and Anne Cucchi was dismissed. The case involved a request that the court remand a Planning Board decision to approve a Voluntary Merger of parcels on Skatutakee Road back to the Planning Board.