Jefferson County looks to expand access to high-speed Internet

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday created a “broadband working group” to help bring high-speed Internet access to rural areas.

The group will explore ways to expand broadband service to parts of the county outside the cities. Some parts of the county, particularly farming areas, are “dead zones” where no Internet access is available.

“Broadband Internet is an economic development tool and helps increase property values and makes Jefferson County a more desirable place to live,” said Supervisor Amy Rinard of Ixonia, a member of the new panel. Other supervisors appointed to the group are Jeff Johns, Dick Jones, Russ Kutz and Jim Mode.

The state Public Service Commission is pushing to expand high-speed Internet access throughout Wisconsin under it Broadband Forward! program. Thinly populated areas in northern and western Wisconsin are especially underserved, according to the PSC.

A map from the PSC shows that Jefferson County enjoys broadband access in all its cities, as well as a continuous swath of access along state Highway 26 from the county’s southern border all the way to Watertown.

Broadband in Jefferson County, via cable and fiber-optic lines, is supplied mostly by Charter Communications and AT&T, with TDS Inc. as a smaller player.

The County Board last December approved a model ordinance from the PSC designed to streamline the broadband application and approval process. At that meeting, several supervisors said the lack of good Internet service in rural areas was discouraging business development and limiting access to online education.

Rinard lives just a few miles from Oconomowoc, an affluent Waukesha County community with excellent Internet access. But “it’s a different story” in Ixonia, where service is spotty and expensive, she said.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, County Board Chair Jim Schroeder told reporters that “If it was our druthers, we would create a municipal utility” that would provide broadband access countywide.

That is unlikely under existing state law. Instead, Rinard said the working group will explore financial options that might involve county or town incentives to Internet service providers, along with grants from the PSC.

Salute to county clerk

Also on Tuesday, the board bid a fond and sometimes humorous farewell to County Clerk Barbara Frank, who will retire after the spring elections April 2.

Frank has worked for the county since 1981 and became county clerk in 1997. One of her key duties is overseeing elections, including preparing and distributing ballots and voting machines, and tabulating results in everything from minor contests to the presidential vote.

In its resolution of thanks, the board noted that Frank “has taught us the importance of the ‘R’ words – recount and recall.”

In her final annual report to the board, Frank said turnout in the Nov. 6 election – which included contests for governor, U.S. Congress and state legislative seats – was 58.8 percent of eligible voters in the county.

Chief Deputy Clerk Audrey McGraw will become county clerk effective April 3. She is expected to run for election in November 2020.

In other action Tuesday, the board:

  • Heard the annual report from Register of Deeds Staci Hoffman, who noted that her office’s duties sometimes go beyond filing real-estate records. “We had a woman who came in today and wanted to know who lived on her land before she did, because she has a ghost in her house and wants to talk to him,” Hoffman said.
  • Heard the annual report from county Treasurer John Jensen, who said property-tax delinquencies have fallen steadily for six years in the improving economy.
  • Got a demonstration from Human Resources Director Terri Palm Kostroski of the county’s new Munis Self Service program, which will provide county employees with electronic deposit and pay-stub service in place of paper paychecks.
  • Approved a bid from Bos Design Builders to construct a post frame storage building at the sheriff’s office training facility in Lake Mills at a cost not to exceed $71,000.
  • Approved a bid from Sun Mechanical LLC to replace two boilers at the Human Services Workforce Development Building at a cost of $50,500.
  • Approved a resolution proclaiming April 2019 as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month.