Dexter moving forward with broadband initiative

DEXTER — For a number of months, Dexter officials have been working on broadband initiatives to improve access throughout the community.

The town is part of the dozen-plus member Maine Highlands Broadband Coalition, which was formed to deal with ongoing poor internet connectivity. The group is working to find funding services, and provider(s) to craft solutions to bring affordable and reliable internet to all residents and businesses in the area. 

Communities that join in will have stronger negotiating power with providers and a better chance at winning grants and other funding.

During a council meeting on Nov. 10, Town Manager Trampas King was authorized to sign any memorandums of understanding with town(s) and provider(s) for broadband upgrades to move the initiative along.

The town manager said Maine has received about $70 million in federal funds to distribute across the state to improve broadband access for unserved and underserved areas. Another $20 million is expected to be available next March. 

Discussions have been held with internet service providers and Premium Choice Broadband and Consolidated Communications are both agreeable to work together to connect Dexter.

“This is an in good faith understanding we are doing,” King said, adding that having a memorandum of understanding in place is part of the grant acceptance process. 

“All these little things gets you more points in the grant,” he said. “The more towns we get going, the bigger the pie and the better off we will be.

“The thing for me was first kids started having issues at home with COVID,” King said about students struggling with or being unable to take part in remote learning due to poor or lack of internet access. “If that happens again it would be hard.

“Second, if people buy property they might build on it,” he said. The town manager said he receives calls inquiring about internet access from those looking at purchasing parcels in Dexter and having the entire town connected would be another selling point for the community.

King also said more and more patients are using telehealth, and no longer need to drive to Bangor for many doctor’s appointments.

The price tag to connect all of Dexter would be about $2.2 million. King said ARPA funds could be used to cover the municipal portion of any grant requirements. “The more money you put in shows how dedicated you are,” he said.

One idea is to use $184,000 in ARPA funds for broadband expansion — any decision on ARPA expenditures would be made by a town council vote.

“If we get the grant they have to have it in by June 30, 2024,” King said about the providers’ timeline.

In other business, the council had a discussion on fees for foreclosure affidavits. 

King said that if a bank is looking to foreclose on a property, it will ask the town to take a look to make sure the dwelling is indeed abandoned. He said currently Dexter does not charge a fee for this service but other towns do, such as Pittsfield at $100.

A formal ordinance would need to be drafted and approved by the council, but a $50 fee was agreed upon by the council to move forward with. When asked, he said property reviews are only conducted a few times a year for financial institutions.

King said nearly 1,600 voters took part in the election two days prior, a high turnout for a non-presidential ballot. He thanked all the election staff for their work.

For the council race, incumbents Heidi Kinney and Chairperson Andrew Bermudez were both elected to 3-year terms with respective vote totals of 950 and 930. Former councilor Marcia Delware was elected with 923 votes for the third open seat on the council (per the town charter councilors can only serve two terms in a row). Jonathan Hanson received 799 votes in the race.

Vice Chairperson David Palmer opted to not seek reelection to the town council after serving the last three years.

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