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Wisconsin County Puts $2.8M of Federal Money Toward Broadband

The federal money, which the county received as a result of American Rescue Plan Act, will be used as matching funds to support broadband expansion projects in Eau Claire County, Wis., towns.

(TNS) — Two Eau Claire County committees approved spending $2.8 million on projects to help bring high speed internet to county residents.

The money, which the county received as a result of American Rescue Plan Act, will be used as matching funds to support broadband expansion projects in Eau Claire County towns.

During a meeting Tuesday, the Eau Claire County Finance and Budget Committee unanimously approved a budget amendment resolution designating $2.8 million in matching funds to go toward broadband. The county Administration Committee unanimously approved the same resolution a few hours later. The resolution now goes to the Eau Claire County Board for final approval.

"I don't know why we wouldn't support this," said Colleen Bates, County Board supervisor and Administration Committee member.

The resolution "requires the Broadband Committee to develop an application process, grant criteria, and to monitor the expenditure of funds and report to the County Board on the expenditure of funds," according to the resolution fact sheet.

The $2.8 million figure is the total ARPA funding given to towns in Eau Claire County, and towns can in theory spend all of their ARPA money on broadband expansion.

Don Mowry, County Board supervisor and Broadband Committee chairman, said Tuesday that broadband is one of "the most critical" utilities on which towns can spend money. Mowry also noted that matching funds from the county improves the chances of town broadband projects being partly funded by state grants.

"Broadband" is a general term for any project that brings internet service to residents, such as via fiber cable or orbiting satellites. Broadband infrastructure is one of the areas on which ARPA money can be spent. Other potential areas include investing in water and sewer projects and assisting small businesses and nonprofits.

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the county was allocated $20.3 million in COVID-19 relief. The county will receive half of that money this year and will receive the second half next year.

Bates believes the money spent on broadband development "will be so beneficial to everyone in the county."

Mowry agreed, saying the money is a massive step to help the Broadband Committee achieve its overarching goal to bring high-speed internet to all county residents, noting the multitude of potential projects the funds could support.

"Originally (the Broadband Committee) had no funds but lots of ideas, and now we have more funds than we have ideas," Mowry said.

ARPA Committee created

The Administration Committee approved a resolution creating the nine-member American Rescue Plan Act Committee to manage $20.3 million in ARPA funds, which must be spent by the end of 2024.

The ARPA Committee will make recommendations on how to spend the federal aid, and those recommendations will go on to the Administration Committee. The ARPA Committee will also hire a third-party administrator "to distribute funds identified for the purpose of assistance to small businesses or nonprofit organizations," according to the resolution.

The next Eau Claire County Board meeting is scheduled for July 20 at 7 p.m.

© 2021 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.