Hampden town councilors voted 4 -3 to borrow $4.5 million to build a community fiber optic network that would reach every home and business in the Bangor bedroom community.
Residents will decide in the November election whether to approve the borrowing but even if passed, construction would not begin until spring of 2022. The fiber optic cables would be attached to utility poles.
It would be paid for by subscribers, so property taxes would not increase, according to Amy Ryder, economic development director for the town.
At least 938 homes would need to connect to the network to repay the $4.5 bond issue over 20 years, Ryder said.
At the public hearing, Ryder said that more than 600 residents and businesses have expressed interest in subscribing to the network.
Councilors Shelby Wright, Eric Jarvi, Christine Cubberley and Ivan McPike voted in favor of the proposal.
Jarvi said that he supported the proposal, in part, because even if the voters approved the plan, the council would have to approve the issuance of the bonds later in the year.
Mark Cormier, Allen Esposito and Peter Erickson voted against it but did not explain why.
The town would own the network but service would be provided by Axiom Technologies LLC, based in Machias, she said. Fees would range from about $60 per month for a speed of 50 megabits per second to nearly $200 per month for a speed of one gigabit per second.
Download and upload speeds — the time it takes to receive and send information — would be the same if the plan is approved.
Currently, about 335 homes in Hampden are considered to be underserved by internet service and only have DSL dial-up service. Those residents can only access internet speeds that are below the state standard of at least 50 megabits for receiving information and 10 megabits for sending information.
While federal funds from the the American Rescue Plan Act can be used to upgrade broadband networks, Hampden will receive $738,000, not nearly enough federal money to pay for the proposed fiber optic network.
If approved, the town would create a fund to help people with limited incomes pay the subscription fees, Ryder said.
In other business, councilors by a 5-2 vote appointed Jillian Sarnacki-Wood to serve the unexpired term of Kimberley Moran on the RSU 22 Board of Directors.
The council moved to quickly replace Moran, who resigned on Aug. 7 from the RSU 22 board, because she was applying for a job with the district’s Gifted and Talented Program. The board’s bylaws required that she resign if seeking a position in the district. She was elected to the Regional School Unit 22 School Board in November. Her term expires in November 2022.
Three other people, Debra Plowman, Shelley Sargent and Brian Moussally applied to replace Moran as one of Hampden’s representatives to the board. Plowman, a Republican, served in the Maine State Senate from 2004 to 2012.
Councilors approved Sarnacki-Wood’s appointment on a second round of voting after no candidate received a majority in the first round. Esposito and Cormier changed their votes and supported her appointment in a subsequent motion.
The RSU 22 Board, made up of representatives from Hampen, Winterport, Newburgh and Frankfort, will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday after it incorrectly tabulated members’ votes last week on a policy making masks optional for students. That measure would have narrowly failed if votes had been counted correctly.
Sarnacki-Wood will participate in that emergency meeting.
Plowman and Sargent supported making masks optional for students while Sarnacki-Wood and Moussally said masks should be mandatory.
Jarvi urged the three other candidates to run for one of the three seats up for election to the RSU 22 board in November.