By the end of 2019, continuing to explore a municipal broadband network could cost the City of Gainesville more than half a million dollars.
That’s the message staff presented to city commissioners on Thursday, and that — along with the network’s eventual price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars — had commissioner Helen Warren wanting to reconsider.
“Is this the use of the money that we want in the face of our budget reality?” she asked.
Gainesville Regional Utilities employees are spending about 150 hours analyzing the proposed network and will make that analysis public in October. Other city and utility departments will then spend 120 hours on further study and legal review.
If the October analysis garners continued commissioner interest, the city would spend $150,000 on bond counsel, $30,000 on a digital divide study, and as much as $350,000 on other costs like engineering. The estimated total is between $330,000 and $530,000.
Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos has championed the idea for three years and isn’t dissuaded.
“There would probably be nothing that we could do that would have a bigger impact on creating jobs and economic development than doing this — in my opinion,” he said. “This would be a game-changer for the city.”
A consultant this summer told the city the cost of a fiber network could be as much as $213 million.
In a separate potentially costly venture, city commissioners on Thursday had to backpedal quickly on their ordinance banning single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers.
A state appeals court this week upheld the legislature’s ban on cities enacting such bans, meaning the city’s new ordinance is illegal under state law and it could have faced legal fees in defending the ban. City commissioner Harvey Ward said regardless of the court decision, litter that doesn’t decompose is still a problem.
“You can go to pretty much any body of water bigger than a puddle in the Gainesville area, and you will see Styrofoam and plastic bags,” he said. “They don’t go away. They float or blow somewhere else.”
A challenge to the legislature’s ban could be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, but for now, single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers remain legal in Gainesville city limits.
“It may not be illegal, but it’s not right,” Warren said. “We can continue a message out into the community to say, ‘There’s a better way.'”