Broadband providers looking to expand service in Cumberland County will have access to extra grant funding.
The Cumberland County Commission Tuesday approved using up to $3 million of its federal COVID-19 relief funds to supplement state grant funding for broadband expansion in the county.
“I think we can help more people get broadband,” Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster told the budget committee earlier in the month.
The county has received $11.74 million in federal relief funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, part of the $350 billion in federal funding approved by Congress in March. The funds are to help communities respond to the pandemic, but governments must use the funds in specific ways or risk having to repay the money. That’s why Foster previously advised the commission to wait on planning how to spend the windfall.
Tennessee has designated $400 million of their allotment for broadband internet expansion. The grant programs require internet service providers to pay a portion of the project costs. The county funds would be used to help service providers cover 10% to 20% of the matching funds, up to $3 million.
“With $400 million, I think there’s a real possibility that more than one company gets picked,” he said, adding he knew of at least three and possibly a fourth company planning to apply.
Companies can get extra points on the grant scoring if their county has committed to helping pay the matching portion, Foster said. Plus, the county would have the extra assurance the project meets federal requirements if approved by the state.
And, should there still be an area of need after the grants are announced, the county could go forward with its own grant process.
Local service providers have received multiple grants to expand high-speed internet access in the county since February 2020:
• February 2020, $2.2 million USDA Reconnect Grant to Ben Lomand to serve 222 homes across about 100 square miles in the areas of Smith Mountain, Millstone Mountain and Long Rockhouse Branch near Crab Orchard and north of Fairfield Glade west toward No Business Creek and Clear Creek
• April 2020, $2 million grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to Ben Lomand to serve about 1,500 locations in the Hwy. 127 N. area
• October 2020, $1.9 million USDA Reconnect Grant to Ben Lomand to serve 84 addresses and about 25 square miles in the southwestern portion of the county
• December 2020, $3.3 million CARES Act grant to Volunteer Energy Cooperative and Twin Lakes to extend service in the Cumberland Cove area
• February 2021, $4.8 million Rural Digital Opportunity Fund grant to Charter Communications to extend service to about 6,000 additional homes in the county. The new service areas account for about 20% of all households in the county
• March 2021, $1.9 million Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development grant to Ben Lomand to expand service to 1,125 locations in the county
Charles Seiber, 4th District commissioner, moved to approve the resolution, supported by Deborah Holbrook, 8th District commission. The resolution was unanimously approved.
The county also approved a resolution that would dedicate up to $250,000 of the federal relief funds for a waterline expansion project in southern Cumberland County.
Foster told the budget committee South Cumberland Utility District had a project to extend water lines to about 30 homes on East Valley Rd., Sequatchie Valley Rd., Upper East Valley Rd., Old Hwy. 28, E.G. Wilson Rd., Wilson Cemetery Rd. and Tranquility Lane.
The utility district had been awarded a $468,865 Community Development Block Grant in 2019, with another $350,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to go toward the project, estimated at $1.2 million three years ago. However, the project only recently was put out for bids.
Bids were about $1 million over the estimated cost.
The resolution would provide about 20% of the shortfall. Additional funding could come from the state’s water infrastructure funds, if approved by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
“We’re trying to figure out a way to help South Cumberland,” Foster said. “If TDEC will give 80% of that shortfall, the county will do the 20%. And if TDEC doesn’t do the 80%, so long as it meets the federal requirements, we’ll still do the 20%.”
While this is the first water and sewer resolution dedicating the federal funds, Foster said other utility districts in the county will also have an opportunity to apply for funding from both the county and the state. Cumberland County received $7.1 million for water and sewer infrastructure projects. That’s in addition to the $11.74 million in general ARPA funding.
The city of Crossville, which operates its own utility department and the Catossa Water Department, received a separate allocation from the state.
Kyle Davis, 2nd District commissioner, moved to approve the resolution, supported by Sue York, 1st District commissioner. The resolution was unanimously approved.
In other business, the county’s delinquent tax committee accepted an offer of $532 for a parcel at 121 Torrey Pines Lane in Fairfield Glade.
No property taxes have been paid for the property since 2022, with a balance of $531.46.
Deborah Holbrook, 8th District commissioner, moved to approve the sale, supported by Darrell Threet, 3rd District commissioner. The motion was unanimously approved.
Because the bid for the property settled the tax debt, no action from the
full commission was necessary.