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Commissioners receive updates on broadband expansion, small business grant program

SALISBURY — The first Rowan Countians to benefit from the county’s investment in rural broadband are scheduled to be “online” by the end of the month.

“It’s always been our goal to get someone online by the end of the year, and, so far, we are right on target,” said Kent Winrich, chief technical officer for Open Broadband.

Winrich provided the Rowan County Board of Commissioners with an update during its meeting Monday on his company’s progress toward connecting rural parts of the county to high-speed internet.

The county decided earlier this year to spend $200,000 in coronavirus relief funds to incentivize Open Broadband, based in Waxhaw, to expand its reach into the southeast and northwestern portions of Rowan County.

“Residents should be proud of the way you’ve done this and it’s really going to accomplish a lot,” said Winrich, who mentioned that other counties across the state have also allocated coronavirus relief funds to expand broadband.

Winrich told commissioners that Open Broadband has already lined up several “beta testers” in the Morgan Ridge area to be the first to receive internet service. The company already has most of the equipment needed to complete the project, Winrich said. Any additional equipment is in the process of being ordered.

He said “climbers” will be scaling several towers in the county next week to install more equipment.

Also on Monday, County Manager Aaron Church told commissioners more than 200 applications were received for Rowan County’s small business grant program.

The grant program, which closed its application period Friday afternoon, will distribute $350,000 in Coronavirus Relief Funds to local small businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic.

Church said that 210 applications were received online and 16 in person. Some of the online applications were duplicates.

McGill Associates has been tasked with verifying the applications submitted and with distributing the grant program. As of Monday morning, McGill determined that 16 applications were eligible to receive funds, 36 were awaiting further documents, 14 were ineligible, 58 need to be contacted for more documents and that 18 were ineligible due to a low score on the application. Church said that those numbers are “changing by the hours” as McGill Associates continues to reach out to applicants and verify information.

Commissioners gave a deadline of 5 p.m. on Friday for grant applicants to provide any additional information needed to McGill Associates. If the applicant fails to meet that deadline, they will be disqualified.

In other meeting business:

• Commissioners Mike Caskey and Craig Pierce were sworn in for their third terms. Both Caskey and Pierce were re-elected after running unopposed in the November elections. Commissioners Greg Edds and Jim Greene were unanimously selected by fellow commissioners to remain as chair and vice chair of the board of commissioners. Edds and Greene have served in those positions since they were originally elected to the board in 2014.

• Environmental Health Supervisor Adrian Pruett provided commissioners with an update on the state of the department’s on-site soil inspections. The current wait time for an on-site inspection is five weeks and two days. The wait time was previously down to four weeks and four days. Pruett said that the increase was likely due to several inspectors going on vacation.

• Commissioners approved two change orders for phase one and phase two of the plan to safeguard county facilities from COVID-19. Commissioners approved using $5,862.05 in contingency funds for additional equipment and installation for SALCOA to complete phase one and for $17,181 in contingency funds for Vertex Construction to complete phase two.

• Commissioners passed a revision to the county’s sick time policy to allow employees who have been exposed to or infected by COVID-19 and who are otherwise out of all available leave balances to be advanced up to 80 hours of sick leave for specific COVID-19 absences. The revision comes as the temporary policy for emergency paid sick leave provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act is set to expire on Dec. 31 and the federal government has not indicated it will extend the benefit.

• Commissioners authorized a lease agreement between the county and Perkins Cafeterias for the former K&W Cafeteria restaurant building at 1925 Jake Alexander Blvd. West. The five-year lease will begin on Dec. 8 and will see Perkins Cafeterias pay the county $5,250 per month in base rent and common area maintenance. That amount will be adjusted annually by 2.5%.

• The Rowan County Board of Commissioners authorized the county to enter into a contract with Alley, Williams, Carmen and King and WithersRavenel to provide erosion control plan review services and site inspections on an “as-needed” basis. The services provided by the two companies will only be necessary until a candidate to replace the county’s retiring erosion control administrator has been hired and is able to independently manage the program. It is estimated that AWCK and WithersRavenel’s services will be needed for no more than three months. Funding for the services will be taken from the “consulting services” line item in the Planning and Development budget.

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