CENTERVILLE - With any state senate decision delayed for at least a year, UTOPIA’s discussions about a potential private takeover are moving ahead unencumbered.
Officials with the fiber-optic network are continuing talks with Macquarrie, an Australian company looking to take over the running and expansion of the network for a 25-year period. Though SB 190 initially looked to cut off a fee source vital to Macquarrie’s plans, the bill was amended before being sent to the rules committee for what looks to be the rest of this legislative session.
“Rather than make things more clear, (SB 190) tended to obscure what some of the rules are regarding municipal utility fees,” said Layton City Attorney Gary Crane, who is involved in UTOPIA’s discussions with Macquarrie. “I think it was a wise decision to delay it. We appreciate it.”
Though nothing has been decided, Macquarrie’s current plan is to build the network out completely and bring what they refer to as a “utility portal” to all residents in a city. This would increase the number of people with access to the network, and would be paid for by a utility fee issued by the city. The money would then go to Macquarrie.
“It’s not much different than the way we do our garbage,” said Centerville City Manager Blaine Lutz, who serves as the city’s representative on the UTOPIA board. “We couldn’t afford to be able to run a fleet of trucks, so we contract all that out.”
Cities could also add to the utility fee to help pay their portion of the bond debts incurred by earlier expansion efforts, which Macquarrie has already said they won’t take on.
“Currently, the question of whether or not to do that is up to the discretion of the cities,” said Lutz. “I don’t think we’ve gotten that far yet.”
Initially, SB 190 was designed to eliminate the ability of cities to charge utility feels for these kind of telecommunication-related projects. An amended version of the bill allowed the possibility of fees in certain circumstances, but required cities to allow “economically indigent” residents a way to opt out of the fee.
Senator John Valentine, R-14, the bill’s initial sponsor, made a motion to send the bill to the rules committee last week for further study. The motion passed, which effectively tables the bill until at least the next legislative session.
Even if it returns to the Senate floor, however, Lutz feels that public and private partnerships will crop up more and more as cities look to add services.
“Government isn’t designed to be efficient,” he said. “It’s all about fairness and equality, which means that it takes about four months to make a decision. (Bringing in businesses) could have real advantages in some ways.”