SALT LAKE CITY -- UTOPIA's executive director insists the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency is not broke and bristles at what he characterizes as a "misrepresentation in the press" that the community-owned fiber-to-the-home network is not on course to better days.
UTOPIA Executive Director Todd Marriott took exception to a Standard-Examiner article published Sunday that suggested the network is broke and will be out of operational funds by the end of this month.
Marriott said the model established in 2010 -- when nine communities formed the Utah Infrastructure Agency and bonded for $65 million to fund the fiber expansion project -- is very much on track and, in some cases, exceeding established parameters.
That track, he said, includes plans to draw down from the bond with each project phase. That revenue becomes available when the UIA board approves the next tranche for the next scheduled drawdown.
UTOPIA members include Tremonton, Brigham City, Perry, Layton and Centerville. All of those communities, except Perry, are also members of the Utah Infrastructure Agency, which was formed among nine communities -- eight of which are pledging members -- to deal with the organization's financial woes.
A move to make that revenue available does not require a vote among city councils in the participating communities, but Layton City Manager Alex Jensen said he would talk with Layton board members before voting with the UIA board for the next tranche.
"UTOPIA is not at break-even yet," Marriott said, "so we borrowed enough money to make it through June of this year. We've been able to do much better than anticipated and are still operating on those monies intended to go through the June time period."
He said the organization still has $3 million in financing in the bank for capital costs to grow the network and has been able to generate enough operating revenue to meet its $2.1 million debt service costs.
As the group grows, he said, it will be able to begin to address UTOPIA's debt.
A legislative audit released earlier this year showed UTOPIA has negative net assets of $120 million.
Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, said UTOPIA is a mistake and will continue to be a financial boondoggle for participating communities.
He said there are no performance metrics participants can point to that suggest they have turned the corner.
Van Tassell and UTOPIA officials also differ on what are termed take rates -- or the rate at which residents are signing up to be part of the network.
Van Tassell said the take rates are way below projections, while Jensen, Lutz and others say the rate is higher than projected.
Bonds for the fiber network are backed by sales tax revenue pledges from participating municipalities.
Pledge amounts are $2.146 million a year for Layton; $427,697 for Centerville; $324,459 for Tremonton; $430,039 for Brigham City; and $104,494 for Perry.
The pledge goes up approximately 2 percent a year over the 25-year lifespan of UTOPIA's existing bonds, said Blaine Lutz, financial director for Centerville and a participating member of the UTOPIA board.