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Broadband grant program OK'd, heads to Douglas County Board

American Rescue Plan Act money would help towns and villages in Douglas County secure grants for internet expansion.

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A Public Service Commission of Wisconsin map detailing different levels of broadband access within Douglas County as of December 31, 2018. (Courtesy of the PSC)
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SUPERIOR — Douglas County could help towns and villages expand broadband.

The administration committee on Thursday, March 3, approved allocating $500,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money to create a matching grant program to assist towns and villages with broadband infrastructure projects.

“We have been periodically getting a request from towns and villages to help them come up with enough money to make their grant application more worthy,” Chairman Mark Liebaert said.

Rather than provide assistance in a way that is haphazard and unfair, Liebaert proposed setting aside a portion of the county’s federal allocation to create a matching grant program to help towns and villages pay for their share of costs associated with broadband grants.

“We’re not going to finance broadband expansion,” Liebaert said. “If we cap it at $50,000, I don’t think anyone is going to take advantage of us.”

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Liebaert said towns and village that apply for the money will have to be in the process of submitting an application for state or federal grant funding; the county won’t pay for exploration to expand broadband.

Supervisor Nick Baker proposed putting county administrator Ann Doucette and Liebaert in charge of handling disbursements through the grant program and reporting those back to the administration committee.

“We'll develop the forms, and then Mark and I will meet to go over the requests," Doucette said. Any county grants approved would go to the administration committee as a budgetary transfer, she said.

"We won't give them the money until they get the grant, right?" Baker said.

"This is just pledges of money," Liebaert said.

The towns and villages would only receive money from the county if they are successful in getting grants.

The proposal goes to the county board March 17.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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As reported by Douglas County Circuit Court.