WILLMARKandiyohi County, as part of the federal American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief package, will receive over the next year approximately $8.3 million. The funds can be used to pay for a wide range of projects, programs and personnel, as long as it can be tied back to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An area getting a lot of attention is high-speed broadband. The rules of the American Rescue Plan say funds can be used for critical infrastructure projects, including broadband investments that can provide 1,000 megabits per second upload and download speeds.

At a work session June 10, there was a consensus of the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners to spend a large chunk of the county's allotment, perhaps as much as 75 percent, to help fund several broadband improvement projects across the county.

"We all believe broadband should be our priority," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl at Tuesday's County Board meeting.

The County Board began to make good on that consensus Tuesday, committing $1,314,386 to a project that will expand high-speed broadband to Dovre, Mamre, St. Johns and Arctander townships.

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"This is pretty exciting, to be at this stage, make some movements like this and take some action on broadband. And hopefully see some results," said Commissioner Corky Berg. "It is very positive."

The Federated Fiber project will be a fiber-to-the-home build and will serve around 755 households. In the planning stages since 2019, the project is currently estimated to cost $10,305,030. Federated Telephone Cooperative of Morris, the service provider, is offering to pay 25 percent or $2,576,257. The rest of the funding will come from the townships and, it is hoped, a state Border to Border Broadband Development Grant.

The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission broadband committee is in the process of writing up the Border to Border grant application, with the end goal of being awarded approximately half of the project costs. The application is due at the end of August, so it it is imperative to have the other funding sources, including the county's portion tied up before then, Kleindl said.

A map that shows the potential high-speed broadband projects being planned for in Kandiyohi County. The County Board is considering spending most of its American Rescue Plan funds on these types of projects. On Tuesday it committed $1.3 million to the Federated Fiber project on the county's northwest side. Submitted map
A map that shows the potential high-speed broadband projects being planned for in Kandiyohi County. The County Board is considering spending most of its American Rescue Plan funds on these types of projects. On Tuesday it committed $1.3 million to the Federated Fiber project on the county's northwest side. Submitted map

There are several other projects the broadband committee is working on, including another large project that would extend high-speed broadband into Burbank, Roseville, Irving, Harrison, Gennessee and East Lake Lillian townships, or 1,698 properties. The EDC broadband committee is requesting the county commit $4,159,842, or half of its American Rescue Plan allotment, toward these broadband projects. This includes the money for the Federated project.

"We will come back on a future date for other broadband areas, for (American Rescue Plan) dollars," Kleindl said.

The county has until Dec. 31, 2024, to obligate all of its American Rescue Plan funds to eligible projects and must expend all dollars by Dec. 31, 2026.

In addition to broadband improvements, the County Board is looking for other ways to use the American Rescue Plan funds to assist the public. The board will be having many more conversations and meetings over the next months and years on just how to use the money.

"We are going to continue to have conversations about how we want to cover the other areas that are eligible for use," Kleindl said. "Stay tuned. We are still working on it. The board is taking this very seriously."