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City council approves sale to Big River Broadband

FARMINGTON – Following months of public debate and real estate negotiations, the Farmington City Council voted unanimously Thursday evening to sell the former city fire station to Big River Broadband LLC.

Under the agreement approved by the council the firehouse will be sold for $150,000. Once Big River Broadband LLC remodels the building to be used as office and computer-based technology space, the company can apply to the city for up to $100,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds as reimbursement for the remodeling costs.

Big River Broadband LLC, a division of Big River Telephone, based in Cape Girardeau, was recently awarded a federal contract to develop a multi-county wireless broadband network in a portion of Southeast Missouri. Under the agreement the company will receive about $12 million in a grant and another $12 million in a low-interest loan. Additionally the firm will have to utilize another approximate $10 million of privately-collected funds.

Big River Broadband LLC announced shortly after receiving the contract last year that the company hoped to locate in downtown Farmington, and showed interest in the former fire station building. Earlier in the federal application process the company had looked at several buildings in the downtown Farmington area. The former fire station offered the additional enticement of having a key communications hub located a few feet from the building.

Prior to Thursday night’s council vote on the sale of the building, resident Tori Proffer addressed the city council about how important the communications hub is for Big River Broadband’s upcoming project. She said there are only four similar communication hubs in the county, and only two with the newer technology necessary for the broadband project. She reasoned that the city could have sold the building to Big River Broadband at a much higher price considering its convenient proximity to the communications hub.

The only member of the public on the evening’s agenda to address the council was Thomas Johnson. He implored the council members not to sell the city-owned building to Big River Broadband LLC, reasoning it would give the company an unfair advantage over other companies seeking to provide similar services. After initially saying he was reading the letter on behalf of his friend, Cole Smith, and reciting the multi-page letter to the council, he explained near the end of his talk that the letter was, in fact, regarding his own company … which was providing similar services to Big River Broadband LLC.

Johnson and Proffer’s addresses to the council came at the beginning of the monthly meeting. Well into the evening’s agenda the second reading and call for council action on the bill allowing for the actual sale of the firehouse was called for by Administrative Services Chairman Darrel Holdman.

Following the reading of the bill by title, Mayor Stuart “Mit” Landrum asked if the council members needed any further discussion. The group gave indication it was ready to vote and a vote was called for. One by one the council members voted in favor of moving forward with the sale of the building to Big River Broadband LLC. The issue passed by a vote of 8-0.

Other bills voted on and approved during the evening included a measure allowing for a pay increase for council members and the mayor. However, the raises will not go into effect until May of 2013. The timeline was structured to allow the current mayoral term and all current and pending council terms to expire prior to the raise taking effect. So the council voting for the raise has no guarantee of being in office at the time the raises become active.

Still, two council members voted against the future raises for the council and mayor. Councilmen Larry Forsythe and Joe McMillen were against the measure. The remaining six members voted in favor. Forsythe had earlier voiced his dissatisfaction with the proposal, saying citizens should choose to serve out of an obligation to help the city, and not for a paycheck.

In a separate matter, earlier in the meeting City Administrator Greg Beavers gave the monthly finance report. He said with the first quarter of the fiscal year on the records, sales tax is running about 7 percent below the same time in 2010. He went on to say the council had budgeted for the year based on a 3 percent decrease over the prior year. It’s anticipated, he added, that the final percentage down at the end of the year will be in the 3 percent range.

The administrator also gave a follow up on the city’s new Code Red alert warning system. Recently the council approved a purchase agreement to buy into a weather and emergency alert warning system which uses phone calls, text messages and emails to warn of danger.

Cost of the Code Red system is about $14,000 per year, and the city has a one-year contract to test the service. Any and all residents and business owners can sign up for the warnings free of charge. In the case of eminent danger from a storm or other potential disaster, the service contacts all registered numbers and delivers either a call, text or email – decided by the individual customer – within seconds of a warning being issued by the National Weather Service or city source.

Information about the Code Red system can be found on the city’s website.

The council will meet next on Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m.

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