No decision on Fibrant after second-straight day of meetings

Published 7:15 pm Thursday, April 13, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY – City officials and members of a business advisory committee need more time to make a decision about the future of Fibrant.

During a private meeting Thursday that lasted more than five hours, the two groups heard presentations from two unnamed businesses that are interested in purchasing, leasing or managing Fibrant. It was the second straight day of meetings about the municipal internet, TV and phone service.

Thursday’s meeting started about 7 a.m. and ended about 12:30 p.m. Advisory committee members and city officials said afterward that a decision had not been made about selecting a bid to buy, lease or manage Fibrant.

City officials have continued to deny access to information about the three companies still in the running or those that have been eliminated from consideration. The three finalists made presentations Wednesday and Thursday. City officials have cited economic development protections in state statutes as the reason for withholding the information.

In an effort to obstruct the view of the room where the meetings were held, city officials placed a fake tree in front of two glass doors on Wednesday evening. For Thursday’s meeting, white paper covered the doors.

After Thursday’s meeting, neither city officials nor members of the business advisory committee would say whether they support one of the three finalists’ proposals. Global Contact Services CEO Greg Alcorn said the city-business group requested more information from the companies that gave presentations.

“The proposers were enthusiastic and passionate about what they could do,” Alcorn said. “What we have to wrestle with is does that match with what we want. We’re just trying to advance the discussion. We need to enhance Fibrant because it’s a great service.”

Alcorn added he’s a Fibrant customer at Global Contact Services and at home.

When asked if any of the proposals would improve the financial state of Fibrant, Mayor Karen Alexander said the three proposals are “interesting and very different.”

“It was interesting how that the entire group, both council and the advisory group, came to the same conclusion that we needed more information and that all of them were interesting and that we could not, based on the presentations we’ve gotten, make a decision,” Alexander said after Thursday’s meeting. “We needed more information to be able to differentiate between the proposals because they all brought something to the table.”

Alexander said members of the City Council, with help from the advisory committee, want to do what’s best for residents of Salisbury.

She said Fibrant has been challenging for the city for almost a decade.

Fibrant’s core operations are cash-flow positive. Because of the roughly $3 million in yearly debt payments, however, revenue from daily operations has fallen short.

A December letter from the North Carolina State Treasurer’s Office analyzed the gap between daily operations and debt payments.

“We are pleased the borrowing between the Broadband Fund and the Water Sewer Fund is being repaid in a systematic manner and that the Broadband operation generated a small profit in 2016 on a budgetary basis of accounting,” said Sharon G. Edmundson, director of the Fiscal Management Section, in a December letter obtained by the Salisbury Post. “However, the operation is still reporting a net loss on full accrual and does not generate enough cash flow from operations to cover its debt service.”

City Manager Lane Bailey said in a response that CTC Technology and Energy, hired as a consultant for Fibrant, would provide recommendations in January or early February. In that early January letter, Bailey said he anticipated CTC would recommend partnering with a private firm on Fibrant.

At other times, Salisbury officials have described the ongoing process as finding a company to purchase, lease or manage Fibrant.

Alexander said there’s no determination at this point about what the final agreement might be.

She said economic development has been the most significant topic in every conversation. Alexander said the company selected to buy or run Fibrant could create jobs or invest private money in the community.

After the city-business group receives requested information, it will meet again in May. It’s unclear whether a decision will be made at that time.

In addition to Alcorn, members of the business advisory committee include:

• Nelson Murphy, chief operating officer at Catawba College.

• Steve Fisher, chairman and CEO of F&M Bank.

• Dyke Messinger, CEO of Power Curbers.

• John Ketner, president of Rowan Investment Co.

• Dari Caldwell, president of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

• Teross Young, vice president of government relations and regulatory affairs for Delhaize America.

• Matt Barr, CEO of Carolina Color.

• Jimmy Jenkins, president of Livingstone College.

• Luke Fisher, owner of Carrol Fisher Construction Co. and president of Fisher Realty.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246