MANSFIELD -- An effort to provide high-speed internet access to underserved portions of Richland County took a preliminary step forward Thursday.
County commissioners voted unanimously to approve a non-disclosure agreement with Spectrum Mid-America, LLC, to analyze what it would take to offer broadband access to parts of the county that do not currently have the capability.
Commissioner Tony Vero said he has had discussions to the topic with Jodie Perry, CEO and president of Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, and Jotika Shetty, executive director of Richland County Regional Planning Commission.
He said the group had spoken with the company, which has agreed to review the status of high-speed internet access in the county, provided the officials not disclose potential costs until a deal to provide the service is reached.
Commissioners said they were uncertain of the technical requirements such an effort would involve.
"Whatever they would need to do from their end to expand high-speed internet in the county," Vero said. "These are just steps we are taking to get ourselves in the door to expand broadband access in the county."
Vero said the largest pockets where it's now not available are primarily in the southwest and northeast portions of Richland County, though he said the group has also found there are areas along Ohio 13 that don't have broadband access, either.
Commissioners said American Rescue Plan Act funds and other grant money could likely be used for the project when/if it's undertaken.
"There are a lot of broadband dollars out there right now," Vero said.
The county will receive about $23.4 million in federal ARPA funds, half of it already received and the remainder coming in 2022. Commissioners have appropriated $1 million to be used in the form of grants for local companies involved in entertainment, lodging/tourism and the food and beverage industry.
They have also set aside $3.2 million to replace revenue lost during the pandemic which can be used for more general purposes.
Commissioners also on Thursday said they had conducted interviews for new department heads to lead the Emergency Management Agency and the Maintenance Department and have also identified a potential candidate to administer their ARPA efforts and do grant-writing work for the county.
Maintenance Department head Chuck Minnich and EMA Director Rick Evans have announced plans to retire by the end of 2021.
"If all goes well, we should be able to announced all three positions by early November," Vero said, pointing out any ARPA work done by the staffer in the new position would be funds reimbursed by the federal dollars allocated to the county.
"If we add headcount, we want to do it in a fiscally positive nature for the taxpayers," Vero said.
Also on Thursday, commissioners approved a request by Dog Warden Missy Houghton to begin the process of changing the facility's security system to Vector Security, ending its relationship with Vetter Security.
Houghton said Vector, which supplies the security cameras at the dog warden's facility, is offering a security system with a more interactive control panel that also provides employee access via mobile devices.
Houghton was granted permission to notify Vetter of the decision, which will take effect when the current contract ends in February.