Scandia is moving forward with Midco.

After a back-and-forth discussion in the past few months over competing plans to expand internet service, the Scandia City Council last week agreed to sign a letter of support for Midco to pursue a state Department of Employment and Economic Development grant.

Midco’s plan would ask for $500,000 in state grant funding and $160,000 in city funds—two-thirds of a roughly $1 million project—that would bring better internet access to as many as 175 Scandia homes. The proposal would utilize both wired and fixed wireless technology. The plan would not provide any improvement to about 35 percent of the city. 

The council’s decision leaves a competing, but far less defined, proposal from CTC in limbo, at least for now.

CTC had proposed to provide fiber optic service to every home in Scandia at an estimated cost of as much as $13 million, with $5 million coming from city sources.

The issue seemingly came to a head last week as Councilwoman Patti Ray championed the Midco proposal and Councilman Steve Kronmiller, who has led the city’s informal Internet Focus Group for almost two years, urged the council to hold off until CTC’s proposal could be examined further.

“I’m arguing that we need to make an informed decision and not rush into this,” Kronmiller said.

Councilmen Chris Ness, though, noted the number of people who already have access to quality internet service but choose not to pay for it. Ness has long argued that raising taxes to cover the city’s portion of the CTC plan is unrealistic, when clearly not every household wants it. 

Ness and councilman Jerry Cusick ultimately sided with Ray. The council vote was 3-2.     

Budget

After three consecutive years of no increases to its local tax levy, the council approved an initial levy request of $2,429,946, a 7.6 percent increase, to be set later this month.

When approved, that amount may decrease, but cannot increase, prior to the council approving its 2020 budget.

In 2017-2019, the city utilized windfall profits from building permits and other revenue sources to offset any potential levy increases.

Former City Administrator Neil Soltis, who is working for the city on a contract basis to prepare the city’s budget, said the city is now in “non-inflationary catch-up mode.”

“I think you have to recognize…that you’ve gone three years without an increase,” Soltis said. “I don’t see a surplus that would allow the council to reduce it.”  

With property values continuing to climb, though, the city’s local tax rate will still decrease to $3.38 per $1,000 of value under the current budget proposal.  

Clean-up issues 

After discussing a backlog of complaints about messy yards, junk cars and excessive outdoor storage, the council named Ness and Cusick to a subcommittee to begin addressing the code enforcement issues.

The pair plans to work with the city’s attorney to begin sending out notices of code violations.

The council also discussed holding a series of “community clean-up days” for certain denser neighborhoods where such issues and complaints may be more prevalent. The events would consist of the city placing dumpsters in those areas for the residents to utilize in cleaning up their properties.

Other business:

• The council reviewed an ordinance that would raise the minimum age for sale of tobacco products within city limits to 21. The council will be scheduling a public hearing on the ordinance.

• The council approved an increase of internet speed to improve service to the city’s security cameras and public wifi in the skating rink warming house and the community center. The additional bandwidth will cost an extra $90 per month.

• The council agreed to hire Katherine Koschak as the city’s part-time office assistant/recreation program coordinator. Koschak will begin work on Sept. 16, making $16.10 per hour.

The next Scandia City Council meeting will be held Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.

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