LAYTON -- Looking at what it considered to be no other viable option, the Layton City Council unanimously joined at least five other UTOPIA member cities in plunging $61 million deeper into debt to develop and expand the high-speed fiber-optic network.
By resolution on Thursday, Layton city committed to the additional bond, which it will back using energy sales and use taxes.
The Brigham City Council, by a 4-1 vote Thursday, also approved going forward with its financial commitment to the service, based on certain conditions being met.
The Centerville City Council, on Tuesday by a 3-2 margin, also committed to the additional bond for UTOPIA.
The three cities are among nine Utah cities belonging to the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency that have put the request for additional financing for the network up for consideration.
The only other Top of Utah cities that are members of UTOPIA are Tremonton and Perry.
The $61 million commitment made by some of the UTOPIA member cities is in addition to a $185 million refinance bond that 10 UTOPIA pledging member cities committed to in 2008, with cities backing the bonds using sales tax revenues.
"We have got to make this thing work," said Layton Councilman Scott Freitag, who in 2008 voted against committing the city to the original $185 million bond out of concern over the 30-year debt.
"We need to try and protect the taxpayer."
Freitag said approving the additional investment is the best option available.
Those options are the city walking away from the service, resulting in Layton losing $31 million; not approving the bond and letting the service slowly die, since subscriber revenues are not currently meeting operation costs; selling what assets UTOPIA has for "nickels or dimes" on the dollar; or committing another $61 million to the project, of which Layton's portion would be about $10 million.
Before approving the resolution that sets the bonding process in motion, the council heard from a few critics of UTOPIA, including Royce Van Tassell, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association.
"I expect you will approve the service contract. I hope that I am wrong," he told the council.
Van Tassel said approving the bond will not eliminate the risk to the taxpayer. He also asked the council members if they would invest their retirement dollars into the venture.
Often, when dealing with this amount of money, Van Tassell said, it almost becomes like playing with "Monopoly money," a game in which everyone but the winner goes broke.
Layton resident Jay Dansie was equally critical of spending more on UTOPIA.
"Technology will evolve and cut into your market," he said. "You don't bet the farm on technology. You don't bet Layton city."
But Layton leaders say the initial amount pledged to UTOPIA will be lost if the city does not provide additional funding, and therefore make it available to more homes and businesses. That would capture the subscribers needed to pay down the bonds and pay the operation cost of the service.
A feasibility study, conducted by Virginia-based Design Nine, broadband and telecommunications experts, shows the take-rates needed for UTOPIA to work are "reasonable, even conservative," and that the marketing plan is an effective strategy, UTOPIA spokeswoman Elizabeth Vincent said in a news release.
Van Tassell said he questions the study because it doesn't describe competition UTOPIA may experience or offer analysis on the target demographics the service needs to reach.
"We need to find our customer base," Councilman Michael Bouwhuis stressed to the UTOPIA team members attending the meeting.