The Accomack County Board of Supervisors conducted a work session Wednesday night to begin the process of deciding how to spend ARPA funding that came to the county as the result of CARES act money.
In the public hearing conducted in June by the Board, 10 of the 24 speakers cited Broadband access as the issue they wanted addressed.
County Administrator Mike Mason told the Board that there is plenty of time to decide how the funding will be allocated and stated that nothing would be decided because this was not a regular meeting. Mason said that this was the beginning of the discussion and the public would be allowed to participate at either more town hall meetings or at the regularly scheduled meetings of the Board.
He also said that the funding should not be used to finance current and recurring expenses.
Mason also said that while Broadband expansion will be at the top of the list, the General Assembly will be meeting in a special session in August and will be voting on how to distribute some $4.3 billion earmarked for Broadband expansion.
Mason said that there is a strong possibility that Accomack County will receive a share of the state money and that the ARPA funding would qualify for matching grant money. Mason said this will help leverage the state funding resulting in more for local Broadband construction.
Supervisor Hart commented that he thought the first step should be to approach the A&N Electric Co-op again about possibly using their distribution infrastructure to help deliver broadband to areas where there is currently no access.
Hart said “ANEC distributes electricity to just about every home in Accomack County. Even if it is no more than securing the use of their poles to run broadband cable, it would be a huge benefit to the residents of Accomack County.
Supervisor Robert Crockett added that he supported Hart’s idea and added that the Eastern Shore Broadband Authority should be asked to present a proposal of how they would use between one and five million dollars should it become available for local expansion. Crockett cautioned that the money could only be used to sign on additional customers and not part of any current Eastern Shore Broadband Authority expansion plans.
County Administrator Mike Mason said that ARPA funding is exclusively earmarked for reaching underserved areas and that would prevent areas that currently have either Broadband or Spectrum from being funded.
In the end, the Supervisors decided to get a committee together to approach ANEC and to ask Eastern Shore Broadband to put together their plan as well.
Two other issues were discussed. The Supervisors discussed the need for more childcare centers in the County and that distributing some of the ARPA funding to local Volunteer Fire Companies to offset some of the losses incurred during the pandemic due to the cancellation of fund raising events.
County Administrator Mike Mason stated that the Board will also entertain requests by other groups in need of funding assistance as well in the coming months.