GOSHEN — Money is moving into place as county leaders prepare to open figurative toll gates onto a local dark fiber optic network.
The Elkhart County commissioners approved allocating money into a fund for managing the network during their meeting Monday.
The move was structured in two parts, with Jeff Taylor, county administrator, seeking to transfer $1.97 million from the Economic Development Income Tax fund into the new so-called “fiber fund.”
“The fiber department, for lack of a better word, is active. And what we want to start doing is monitoring the costs, develop a budget, just like we would with any other department. However, there is no money,” Taylor said.
After green lighting capital for the fund, the commissioners approved Taylor’s request to begin work on creating an annual budget to keep track of the fund’s expenditures and income. Where tax dollars are being used to initially finance the service, Taylor said plans call for fees paid by users to eventually replenish the fund.
“We’re seeding it with EDIT and, over time, that money, that contribution, should be going down and the income from leasing should be going up,” Taylor said. “Best way to do that is establish a fund, have all this money put in a separate fund so we can track it financially.”
The county has been working to create a dark fiber network that would provide high-speed internet service to clients in communities throughout the county, with the network connected to data hubs in South Bend.
The commissioners approved an initial fee model for the fiber network last week. The resolution is intended to serve as a framework to guide discussions on prices for accessing the data lines. The guide provides a structure for different uses. Examples include companies that would lease a fiber line from the county and then activate that line through a service provider. Or, companies could lease lines and provide internet service to other customers. An ordinance with a formal price structure is pending and would likely build off the recently approved model.
Commissioner Mike Yoder likened the dark fiber network to a data toll road the county will maintain for users to access.
“It’s not the best analogy, but we’re basically providing a toll road,” Yoder said after the meeting.
The “tolls” would essentially be based on how participants use the network.
The county is about to embark on tapping into the network itself to move data to a data hub in South Bend after contracts were signed Monday.
Steve Olsen, an attorney for the county, presented a proposed resolution for a pilot program with a pricing model separate from the one passed last week.
“It sets forth … the pricing model for that pilot project, which is distinct and unique from your prior resolution,” Olsen said of the resolution.
The process included signing a master services agreement with South Bend-based QuantaSi Inc. to provide internet services through the dark fiber line as part of the program, and then pages detailing the installation of a monitoring system for the line, as well as hardware and software QuantaSi will use to manage the service.
The commissioners approved the documents pending a legal review of them.
In another fiber-related move, the commissioners approved funding for a connection project in the northeast area of the county.
Redevelopment Coordinator Natasha Kauffmann sought $50,000 from the C.R. 6 and C.R. 17 NE Tax Increment Financing district for what she called a last-mile project.
Kauffmann explained a fiber backbone already runs through the district, primarily along C.R. 17, and the project would help extend connections from that spine to businesses interested in tapping into it.
The commissioners then accepted $300 back into the C.R. 6 and C.R. 17 NE TIF as part of the closeout of the Love’s Drive fiber project.
The commissioners also approved appropriating nearly $105,000 from the Benton, Western Gateway, Middlebury East and North Baugo TIFs to make reimbursements for sewer and water projects. Another vote approved using $52,000 from the State Road 13 TIF for a utility study for a water and possibly new sewer project in that area.
ROAD AND BRIDGE PROJECTS
Other business at Monday’s meeting included votes involving county highway department projects.
Among the requests:
• Appropriating $1.4 million to complete right-of-way purchases ahead of a project on C.R. 38 from C.R. 31 to Ind. 13;
• Awarding Niblock Excavating Inc. the contract for the 2020 community crossings paving program. The company was the lowest bidder, at $1,897,807, for the work;
• Approving an engineering contract for a project to replace Bridge 312 on C.R. 142 over Turkey Creek. The contract is not to exceed $299,700, Transportation Manager Charlie McKenzie told the board. The federal government is expected to reimburse the county 80% of the costs, and McKenzie believed bids wouldn’t begin to go out until 2023;
• And accepting $81,054 back from the closeouts of bridge projects.
In other votes, the commissioners approved a request for the purchase of a bulldozer for the Elkhart County Landfill, and approved interlocal agreements with Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Wakarusa and Bristol for animals services provided by the county humane society.