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Reno County Approves Local Funding for IdeaTek Grant After Change of Heart


By Lucky Kidd


RENO COUNTY, Kan. — After two lengthy discussions and an initial tie vote on the request, Reno County Commissioners voted Wednesday to commit $25,000 in economic development funds and sign a letter of support on behalf of IdeaTek which is seeking a state Broadband Accelerator Grant for a project to extend fiber internet services to an area northwest of Hutchinson.

That grant would cover half of the estimated $850,000 cost of extending services to 211 homes and farms in an area between Monroe and Pennington Road from 69th to 108th Avenues.

When it was initially voted on, it failed on a tie vote with Commissioners Ron Hirst and John Whitesel voting in favor while Don Bogner and Randy Parks voted against, both citing concerns about setting a precedent and questioning if residents should perhaps be asked to help in the cost. Commissioner Daniel Friesen, who is a part owner of IdeaTek, abstained from this discussion and in what came later, but as a private citizen he addressed the commission on the subject, noting this was the first time IdeaTek has had a county decline to financially support broadband expansion.

Pointing out Reno County has long been involved in providing not only financial support, but significant tax abatements for economic development activity, which this would help support, Friesen said, “It’s going to be a tough conversation I’m going to have with 160 employees that are based in Reno County, and how your own county won’t support your mission in connecting the most underserved people in the state.”

That would lead Commissioner Bogner to ask his fellow Commissioners to reconsider.

“With the thought in mind that we’re already doing it and have done it, I may have been premature in my thinking,” Bogner said.

When it was re-voted on, the request was approved 3-1 with Chairman Parks standing firm on his opposition, saying, “I still question some of these organizations; not just IdeaTek – what we gain from some of them in value for what we spend to help them.”

IdeaTek has received a number of Broadband Accelerator Grants in the past to extend internet service in a number of counties around Kansas and has current projects underway in several locations.