Washington city leaders took the next step Monday night toward establishing a citywide fiber-optic network after unanimously voting to award a $3,500 contract to a company to act as its internet service provider consultant.
The company, AiroNet, which has an office in Washington, is helping the city prepare to possibly launch its “Fiber to the Premises” project. AiroNet had the recommendation of Cochran Engineering, a company with multiple offices, including one in Union, and Landmark Contract Management, which is based in Fenton.
City Administrator Darren Lamb said Monday night’s vote reflected the next chapter in a multi-year effort to bring high-speed fiber internet to the city. As part of a deal that harkens back to the expansion of citywide cable television, the city selects one internet provider, which would be responsible for running fiber internet cables throughout Washington. Then individual property owners would be responsible for paying the company to run the fiber internet cable from their homes or businesses.
“This is very much just the exploratory phase,” Lamb said. A committee has been formed that includes representatives from Cochran, Landmark and the city, including Lamb, Treasurer Mary Sprung, Community and Economic Development Director Sal Maniaci, Director of Public Works and City Engineer John Nilges, Ward 1 Councilman Nick Obermark and Washington City Attorney Mark Piontek, who is serving as an adviser to the committee.
“We are looking at, for example, can we provide a service that is not being provided out there in the market or can we offer something that is a bit more competitive with what existing providers are offering. The ISP provider we picked tonight feels that there are faster speeds that we can get and provide that would exceed the current capabilities of what is in town at a competitive price.”
He continued, “We are not here to necessarily take over the market, but we want to go ahead and provide something that would be very competitive, have local control and will provide, hopefully, a consistent product.”
Per the company’s proposal, AiroNet agrees to help the city select the fiber strand quantity and type; route planning and mapping; identify potential opportunities to use existing fiber already placed in city right of way; assist in coordinating and reviewing requests for proposals when they go out in March; and draft cost estimates for the installation.
“I think you’ll probably know a little bit more when we present something in about two months,” Lamb said.
It will likely cost Washington millions of dollars if the city decides to move forward with implementing its Fiber to the Premises project, Lamb said. For comparison, a similar effort is underway in Jacksonville, Ill., a city of about 19,000 people. A report in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier on the project said it had a preliminary cost of $2.5 million.
Many communities have pointed to having a robust internet backbone as the key to attracting future development, especially tech companies.
Having citywide high-speed fiber internet would be a major selling point for the city, according to Maniaci.
“I think it is potentially very exciting for our existing citizens to have reliable, fast and affordable fiber internet to their homes. It is also an exciting marketing tool for the city to be able to entice young professionals to come to Washington. In today’s climate, especially, when more and more people are working from home, we can market the city as you can live in Washington and work from anywhere,” Maniaci said.
Having high-speed fiber internet would also help attract new businesses to Washington, Maniaci said.
If approved, Lamb said Washington would likely be the first city in Franklin County to have citywide fiber offered to residents.
In other business, the Washington City Council voted 5-2 to award the High Street resurfacing and sidewalk project to Jokerst Paving and Contracting Inc., of Festus. The company’s bid of $597,151 was one of 10 bids submitted for the project, which is expected to take 55 days to complete. An official start date on the project has not been announced.
Nilges said this is the first of three infrastructure-related projects the city has planned for this year. The next project, which is expected to go out for bid later this month, includes the resurfacing of Circle Drive, Esther Street, Fair Street from Horn Street to Esther Street, and Locust Street from 10th to Eighth Streets. Resurfacing these streets is expected to cost more than $400,000, according to early cost projections.
More details about the third infrastructure project will be released later this spring, Nilges said.
The Washington City Council also voted unanimously to amend the city’s budget to allow for merit-based pay raises of up to 2 percent for city employees this fiscal year. The council also approved an ordinance which set Lamb’s annual salary at $108,619. The city administrator post is one of the few positions where the salary is set by ordinance, according to Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy. This salary, which takes effect later this month, represents a 2 percent pay raise for Lamb.
The council also voted to purchase three new patrol vehicles, which have a combined cost of $103,296, from Lou Fusz Ford. According to Washington Police Chief Ed Menefee, representatives of Auffenberg Ford in Washington and Joe Machens in Jefferson City said their dealerships did not have the needed patrol vehicles in stock nor would they be able to get any vehicles in stock.
The council also agreed to spend $12,690 for each of the three new patrol vehicles, which are replacing older patrol vehicles that have high mileage, for upgrades from VIP Public Safety. Based in St. Peters, VIP specializes in equipping police vehicles with the necessary light bars and other features.