On September 7, Garfield County announced that it had been awarded a $1.7 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) to support the county’s ongoing project to improve local infrastructure in broadband.
Plans to improve high-speed internet in Garfield County have been underway since May 2016, when Garfield and Mesa counties partnered to assess business and resident internet needs. Since then, Garfield County has worked with several private contractors in the planning process and early stages of implementation.
In December 2021, the County Board of Commissioners shifted focus and funding to “middle mile” broadband infrastructure. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for reliable, high-speed internet service as many Americans worked, went to school, met with doctors and communicated with loved ones online,” a statement read. Press.
“Middle-mile” refers to the part of a telecommunications network – in this case, a physical fiber cable – that connects a large central network to local “meeting” centers. These “meet-me” centers are typically designed to serve areas as large as a city, and the Garfield County case will be carrier-neutral, so residents regardless of their service provider Internet access, should be supported.
The first phase of the middle mile infrastructure is already underway, connecting the core network along I-70 to the Glenwood Springs and Rifle sites. This part of the network should be completed this year. The second phase, currently undergoing preliminary engineering, will connect the Parachute, Silt and New Castle sites. The recent $1.7 million grant, obtained from the Colorado DOLA and supplemented by the American Rescue Plan Act, is designed to help cover the costs of the second phase of the middle mile infrastructure.
The third phase of the Garfield County Continuous Broadband Improvement Project will be the implementation of “last mile” infrastructure. This step is what connects the individual user to the entire network. The end goal of the Broadband Project is to secure high-speed Internet access for every Garfield County resident currently outside of service areas.
On September 9, Garfield County also announced that it had awarded its Private Activity Bond (PAB) cap to the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) to be used for affordable housing initiatives. More than $3.4 million will be donated to CHFA, which will issue bonds for various programs in the county.
PABs are tax-exempt bonds issued by the government for public benefit projects. The state cap for these bonds is assigned by the IRS and assigned to counties and municipalities. Possible initiatives towards which these PABs can be applied include first-time homebuyer loan programs, mortgage bonds for low-to-moderate income citizens, and housing construction for low-to-moderate income citizens.
Garfield County has transferred bonds to CHFA in the past. In 2019, the county allocated $3.15 million for CHFA to be issued to qualified homebuyers. This capacity was used to help fund CHFA’s FirstStep and FirstStep Plus programs. The first is a tax-exempt fixed rate first mortgage and the second is a second mortgage for up to 4% of the first loan amount. Qualified veterans and first-time home buyers are eligible for this program.
Applicants must also complete a homebuyer education course, contribute at least $1,000 of their own funds towards the purchase of their home, and have a minimum credit score of 580.
Additionally, applicants are restricted on their purchase price and must be in a designated income bracket based on their household size. For Garfield County, the income limit for a 1-2 person household is $72,200. For a household of 3 or more, the income limit is $83,000 and the purchase limit for any applicant is $382,500.
According to the economic development page on the Garfield County website, “38% of residents are in the low-wage group ($21,700 to $37,800); 33% are in the average salary range ($44,000 to $56,800); and 29% are considered high earners ($58,500 to $96,500). This puts the majority of Garfield County residents in the eligible bracket for CHFA loans.
Garfield County residents interested in CHFA programs can learn more at www.chfainfo.com