Shutesbury voters to decide on override to pay for broadband network

Monday, June 08, 2015
SHUTESBURY — Voters will decide Wednesday whether to approve a debt-exclusion override that would allow the town to authorize bonds to construct a broadband network in town.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Shutesbury Town Hall, 1 Cooleyville Road. The lone question on the ballot will be whether to approve spending beyond the limits of the state’s Proposition 2½ law to pay for the bonds to build out its portion of a regional broadband network. A simple majority is needed for passage.

The ballot vote comes after annual Town Meeting in May agreed, by a 417-12 count and surpassing the necessary two-thirds majority, to spend an estimated $1.69 million to build out a fiber-optic network and allow the town to join the WiredWest consortium.

About 40 percent of the full cost of build out, at around $2.6 million, will be covered by money from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute.

The estimated property tax increase for an average home assessed at $243,000 would be $13 per month. But if more than 40 percent of residents subscribe to the service, WiredWest will reimburse Shutesbury for its bond payments. The more residents who subscribe, the greater likelihood that there is a reduced impact on property taxes.

Already, over 40 percent of Shutesbury residents have signed a conditional commitment to get high-speed Internet by making a $49 deposit.

Gayle Huntress, co-chairwoman of the Broadband Committee, said there is no timeline for when construction will begin, but she expects that design work will start this summer. Residents could access the broadband, as well as cable television and improved phone service, sometime in 2017.

Shutesbury continues to have the highest percentage of conditional sign-ups among the 32 WiredWest communities, with about half of all households already showing this interest.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.