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Local

Rock Falls moves ahead with broadband plan

Mayor focuses on seizing opportunities in State of City speech

ROCK FALLS – In his State of the City address Tuesday, Mayor Bill Wescott opened with an emphasis on unlimited opportunities, and closed his speech by focusing on one that is nearing fruition.

The City Council adopted an ordinance authorizing the city to take out up to $13 million in bonds for designing, building, and operating its planned broadband system. The first issue would be $4.1 million.

The council also gave its OK for the city to proceed with the first phase of the fiber-optic rollout, which is not to exceed a cost of $206,677.

The vote was 6-to-1 for both broadband agenda items, with Alderman Rod Kleckler opposing both measures.

A public hearing for issuing the general obligation bonds is set for 6:30 p.m. March 7. The first read on the ordinance would come at the March 21 council meeting, following by the vote during the April 4 session.

"If the ordinance is adopted April 4, we hope to have the bond proceeds by May 1, and the backbone of the system built by the end of June," City Administrator Robbin Blackert said.

In his address to the city, Wescott said the decision to make Rock Falls a gigabit community was the result of many years of work and research.

"The decision to move ahead did not happen overnight," Wescott said. "It came about as a result of listening to our members of the business community and our residents."

The mayor broke the Internet conversation into three key questions, with perhaps the most important being why the city needs gigabit Internet.

"Gigabit-per-second Internet transfers 1,000 megabits per second of data," Wescott said. "To put that in perspective, consider that most homes currently receive 10 to 20 megabits per second through their Internet connections."

The mayor said Rock Falls needs faster broadband because it impacts every aspect of the community, and it will become increasingly important to growth.

"Cellphones, computers, television, smart tools for the home – the average home of four currently utilizes at least seven to 10 devices that depend on an Internet connection," Wescott said.

The mayor said broadband is essential to innovate and thrive in the digital economy, while also enhancing public safety, education, government, job growth and skills development.

"The time is now to advance the Internet in Rock Falls," Wescott said. "This will be a locally owned service, providing jobs, new business, residential, and economic development opportunities."

The mayor also emphasized that the money from local broadband services will stay in the community rather than go to a provider's corporate headquarters.

Wescott told residents that despite the state's financial woes, the city is in excellent financial condition. He said the city has been diligent in its budgetary practices, resulting in a strong bond rating and honoring the city's reserve fund policies.

The mayor said construction crews should return to the RB&W Riverfront District on or about March 15 to finish the amphitheater area. Nearly $2.4 million will have been spent at the riverfront park area by the time the amphitheater is completed.

Wescott said all of that has been TIF money, and the rest of the work – skate park, restrooms, and water feature – won't be done until grants become available or additional businesses locate in the downtown TIF district.

NEXT MEETING

The Rock Falls City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. March 7 at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St. 

The agendas will be posted at rockfalls61071.net and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

The council meeting also airs live on Channel 5.

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