Somerville voters approved a proposal to borrow $632,250 to cover half the cost of a municipal broadband network, 49-45, on Tuesday, April 21.
The referendum question asked if voters would authorize the board of selectmen to apply for and accept a $632,250 grant from the ConnectMaine Authority and approve the $632,250 bond to match the grant. The total of $1,264,500 would allow the town to build a “fiber-to-the-home broadband network.”
While town officials say the network would pay for itself with no impact on property taxes, residents have expressed reluctance to increase the town’s debt load and concern that nonsubscribers might have to pay if elements of the plan, such as projected subscriber rates or other funding sources, fall through.
First Selectman Chris Johnson celebrated the results of the vote, while acknowledging the work ahead.
In an email, Johnson said he is glad the vote “means we can proceed with the next steps toward bringing quality, reliable high-speed internet to our town. The closeness of the vote also means there are voters still worried about the financing or the capabilities of this project.”
The selectmen and broadband committee “still have hard work ahead to ensure those worries are unfounded,” Johnson said. The town needs to secure federal, state, and county funds “to make what the town must borrow an amount able to be safely paid off by internet service revenues from the customers we sign up.”
Even if it obtains those funds, the town still must ensure the project delivers the service “our townspeople need and deserve to compete and fully participate in the economic, educational, and other opportunities of the modern age for many decades to come,” he said.
According to Johnson, the town should know if it landed the grant in May. If unsuccessful, town officials will not pursue the bond. If successful, the town may have the network built by June 2022.