High-speed internet access is an official priority of Polk County, after the county board voted last week to establish a goal of readily accessible broadband.

The county will back that objective with a $1,000 contribution per year to any telecommunications utility using the Broadband Expansion Grant Program to bring infrastructure to underserved areas of Polk County. The county will also waive fees associated with broadband expansion — highway utility accommodation permits, for example — on projects that involve county highways or other lands.

“Improved broadband access is necessary for the citizens, schools and businesses in Polk County,” the board’s resolution reads, “for economic development, medical care, education, communication and other current and future uses.”

Broadband Forward!

To be eligible for the state’s broadband expansion grants, which are administered through the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, the county must become a certified Broadband Forward! community. The certification process requires developing a policy reducing administrative obstacles for applicants with broadband infrastructure proposals, and ensures that the applications are processed quickly.

The board on Feb. 19 declared the county’s intent to join Broadband Forward! and approved a “Broadband Network Project Ordinance.” The ordinance dictates that a county staffer and department be assigned the handling of broadband project applications. It also specifies that applications be reviewed for completeness within 10 calendar days of submission, and approved or denied within 60 calendar days. If either deadline is missed, the application will be considered complete or approved, respectively.

Other news

• Polk County and WITC have finalized a lease. WITC tentatively plans to begin holding classes in Balsam Lake this fall.

• The board authorized demolition of the fairgrounds grandstand. (See related story elsewhere in this issue.)

• Polk County is first in the state for reducing debt between 2008 and 2014, per data from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. 

• Gretchen Sampson has announced her retirement. An outside agency will assist with the search for her position. 

• An appeal is pending for the Christensen case.

• The board is looking into authorizing the sale of land formerly known as the Old Country Dam, which had been in county possession since a tax foreclosure in 2002. The dam and associated building have been removed.

• Lyle Doolittle was appointed FSA representative to the Environmental Services Committee.

The next regular meeting of the Polk County Board will be held at 6 p.m., March 20.

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