Markle council moves forward on plan to bring digital broadband to town

Markle could see some big changes coming down the pike, after the Markle Town Council voted to move forward with plans to bring digital broadband service to the town and investigate the development of an area located near Novae.

During its regular meeting Wednesday, Nov. 20, council heard from Mark Wickersham, economic director of Huntington County Economic Development, and his Wells County counterpart, Chad Kline of Wells County Economic Development, about their involvement with an internet provider whose identity was purposely undisclosed. Wickersham said they have been in negotiations with the client for about a month, and are seeking the council’s blessing to move forward with what they termed “Project Wire.”

“Chad and I can both assure you that we’ve vetted the company pretty thoroughly,” said Wickersham. “We’re very aware of their presence in Indiana and can honestly say this is quite an exciting and extraordinary opportunity, if this can become reality.”

The town had sent out a survey to residents in August of 2018 seeking input on whether they would welcome and support a digital internet service. Wickersham said his client wants the town to take the next step and support an engineering-level feasibility study, at a cost of up to $10,000.

Wickersham added the company has begun the early stages of research into the technical aspect of bringing service to Markle, and is also pursuing what he called “regulatory incentive permitting pro-cesses.”

He also asked the council to vote to authorize the town’s Redevelopment Commission (RDC) to engage in conversations with the client.

“We know there will need to be – if do-able – there will need to be some sort of incentive that will need to involve Tax Increment Financing district and potentially a bond as a result,” Wickersham said.

If the negotiations advance to a public discussion the company would be revealed at that time, he added.

Kline said there will be people walking through the community to verify the information gleaned from the first feasibility study done in 2018.

“It has taken it to that next step, and a necessary process for this project,” he said. “It’s taken us a while to get to this step and there have been several meetings with Mark and myself and a few different companies. This wasn’t the first company we had a meeting with, but it’s certainly the company that has the most desire to do the project.”

All three councilmen voiced their support, voting unanimously to provide up to $10,000 for the study and allow the town’s RDC to join in negotiations. Council President Mark Hamilton noted that a town meeting on obtaining internet service drew one of the largest gatherings of residents that he had seen.

“It seems from that meeting that the townspeople are highly interested in this program and appear to support that,” he said.

“People need access to high-speed internet for any number of reasons,” said Councilman Aaron McClary. “Moving forward with an exploratory process seems like a no-brainer to me.”

Councilman Matthew Doss agreed, adding there is also a business interest in having better internet service.

Wickersham said the client would be contacted and conversations would commence immediately.

Keeping in an economic development vein, Huntington County Commissioner Rob Miller also sought the town’s official blessing to investigate the potential of developing land located west of Novae.

Miller, who also serves as the president of the Huntington County Redevelopment Commission, said they have a plan to move forward, but need the town’s commitment to providing sewer and water connections.

Andrew Boxberger, an attorney for the county RDC, said they are in the early stages of evaluating the area. The goal would be to establish a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district to help facilitate the growth, he said.

“The major barrier to that development is sewer and water,” he said. “If the town is not willing to explore the opportunity of allowing whatever develops out there to connect to your sewer and water, we’re kind of at a standstill.”

Project Manager Lana Beregszazi of BCS Management emphasized the need for the connections and said she would work with the town’s engineer or superintendent to determine the feasibility of providing the utilities to make the new park shovel-ready.

“I know we can determine if it’s even going to be possible and if there’s even any point in investing in this further,” she said. “Sewer and water is everything when it comes to economic development. If we can’t connect to Markle’s infrastructure, or even if you’re willing to and your infrastructure is not going to accommodate the type of development the county is looking to do out in that area, then we’re kind of at a loss.”

Wickersham also noted that there would have to be a TIF district established in order to finance construction on the property.
Not everyone on the town’s side of the discussion was immediately open to the plan. Doss said he was uncertain about making a commitment.

“I don’t know how I feel about this one, whereas, the fiber optic – we heard from the people in the community that this is what they want. … To me it’s not a commitment, but it’s like this is where our compass is going,” he said. “If all of a sudden something comes through that doesn’t really follow through with it, or we figure out that development and building up that infrastructure to provide that service up there would be too cost-prohibitive to the Town of Markle, then people are going to come back and say, ‘Well, you guys are against development.’”

Town Superintendent Rick Asher said the town could have a sewer ban charged on it because of too much capacity with the current sewage equipment that could overload it.

Wastewater Superintendent Scott Spahr also told the council that an ordinance mandates that property must be adjacent to property already connected to the sewer line.

Beregszazi said the feasibility study would look at such things as sewer capacity, reports to the Indiana Department of Environmental Services, where easements might go to run sewer connections and whether the collection system could handle the volume.

The council voted 3-0 to allow the investigation to move forward, but added the stipulation that the feasibility study will also determine whether Markle has a town code that prohibits the project as part of the process.

On another matter, Asher announced the town has money in its sidewalk replacement fund for residents who want to repair and replace sidewalks.

Previously, the town had charged homeowners $6.50 per linear foot, with the town matching that amount for the projects.

Hamilton said the town might want to revisit the $6.50 price, since construction costs have gone up since that amount was offered.

Asher said repairing sidewalks is the responsibility of the homeowner and the sidewalks must be ADA compliant.

“I think if we’ve done it in the past and we have the capacity and the appropriation for helping people improve some of the things that benefit not only their property but the town as a whole, I think it’s a great thing,” Clary said.

The council directed Asher to check with some contractors on prices and bring his findings back to the council at its meeting on Dec. 18.

Asher also said the Park Board has ordered new playground equipment that will be installed at Walkway Park. He added it would be stored until it can be installed next spring.