Brigham City hears from residents about UTOPIA

Jun 24 2010 - 11:49pm

BRIGHAM CITY -- In a recent public hearing, Mayor Dennis Fife asked for input on how to respond to UTOPIA's latest request for money.

UTOPIA has recently created a new organization called Utah Infrastructure Agency, which will provide another layer of oversight to member municipalities, while at the same time maximizing the existing assets.

Fife explained that Brigham City is one of the 11 pledging cities that formed UTOPIA in 2002.

"The pledges were made according to population. Brigham City is a 3.3 percent pledge participant. We are part of UTOPIA. It is not a company, it is the cities," Fife said.

The city has recently been asked to pledge another $54,000 per year of additional funding, but that figure is still being negotiated.

A written statement given to residents at the public hearing said, "This is a pledge and no money would be transferred to UTOPIA. If UTOPIA could not pay back the bond from additional income, then Brigham City could be obligated to pay the interest and principal payments."

Brigham City bonded to complete the network inside the city in November 2009. The city owns the fiber-optic infrastructure.

"We are in a unique position. We can be the shining star, or we can be a failure. Our decision now is what is our commitment going forward? Brigham City is just 3.3 percent, and yet we have a network here. We shouldn't have to contribute the same because we have bonded," Fife said.

In 2004 and again in 2008, the residents of Brigham City voted to pledge sales tax to secure UTOPIA's bond for building the fiber optic network. Brigham City's pledge commitment is approximately $400,000 per year.

Councilman Bruce Christensen said that money was put in escrow at that time and was not called upon until February 2010, when UTOPIA called upon those sales tax pledges to make monthly installments for the payment of the bond.

The payments constitute a loan to UTOPIA, which Fife said will be repaid with interest when UTOPIA's revenue is sufficient to overtake operational and debt expenses.

"That was the first the city has paid money out," Christensen said.

Fife said the city is currently negotiating with UTOPIA for a reduced level or no participation in the next round of funding.

"Brigham City has contributed more than any other UTOPIA city by bonding through a special assessment area for Brigham City's network, and thus should not have to contribute to the UIA construction costs. UTOPIA is now in agreement with Brigham City, but is asking for a much smaller pledge than the $54,000 to help cover shortfall in the operational expenses. This amount is still being determined," Fife said.

Resident Jeremy Hunsaker said he loves his UTOPIA service.

"My issue is with the UTOPIA management. I applaud the city council to try to do it on our own. I would ask for more management and oversight.

We need to work with UTOPIA to lend our hand to the other cities.

However, if we have to pledge our money, then need to do that as well," Hunsaker said.

A resident asked the city council if UTOPIA is too big to fail.

Councilman Bob Marabella said, "Can UTOPIA fail? Yes, it can. If it fails or succeeds, the city is still obligated to the $400,000. I want it to succeed, so we don't fail."

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