Fibrant nears 2,300 customers
SALISBURY — The city’s new high-speed broadband utility made slow but steady growth in the third quarter, staff reported Tuesday to City Council.
Fibrant had 2,274 customers in March, up from 2,186 in December. While the number of Internet customers increased throughout the third quarter, the number of phone and cable TV customers fell in March.
Fibrant’s cable TV customers totaled 1,769 last month, down from 1,775 in February. A total of 1,265 people had Fibrant phone service in March, down from 1,284 the month before.
The number of Internet customers climbed to 1,935 in March, up from 1,920 in February.
Fibrant billed $333,533 in March, up from about $311,000 billed each month in December, January and February.
The city recently saved $1.9 million by refinancing some of the debt the city took on to build Fibrant, a $33 million fiber-to-the-home network. City Manager Doug Paris said staff found an additional $100,000 in debt savings for Fibrant, bringing total savings to $2 million.
Fibrant still relies on internal loans from the city’s water and sewer reserve fund to cover operating costs. This year, Fibrant borrowed $2.6 million from the reserve fund.
Paris said Fibrant will still need an internal loan in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1, but it will be less. He told City Council that budget preparations aren’t far enough along to give a figure, but “it looks like (Fibrant) will be much more sustainable in the upcoming fiscal year.”
“We do believe citizens and City Council are going to be very pleased,” said John Sofley, assistant city manager for finance.
Sofley pointed out that Fibrant’s current monthly billing volume would come close to $4 million if annualized.
Debt service on Fibrant is about $3 million a year.
Sofley said Fibrant’s reliability improved in the third quarter, with no downtime in February and March. The utility has suffered from lengthy outages in the past.
In other third quarter financial results, property tax and sales tax revenues were on target, as well as water-sewer revenues, Sofley said.
The city has collected 78 percent of the general fund’s annual revenue and spent 65 percent of budgeted expenditures, he said.
Salisbury-Rowan Utilities was under budget for expenses in the third quarter.
The city was short on billings — 66 percent — for the new stormwater utility in the third quarter, Sofley said.
City Council took “a very business-friendly approach” to the utility, and the appeals process has reduced the number of properties billed by the city, he said.
Stormwater expenses were also lower than expected, and Paris said the city is in compliance with state stormwater regulations.
The utility spent $757,000 in the third quarter, and improvements included repairing culverts, bulkheads and stormwater problems on Lash Drive, staff said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.