LOGAN – Mayor Greg Fraunfelter attributed changes in state legislature to regional efforts, during Logan City Council’s latest meeting Tuesday night.

According to a report by the AP News, earlier this month the state senate removed a proposed $190 million for broadband expansion from the state’s fiscal budget for the next two years.

But on Monday, both the house and the senate voted to approve the 2022-2023 $74 billion budget, which, among other compromises, included a reinstated $250 million for broadband expansion. It is now waiting on Gov. DeWine’s signature.

“Had it not been for southeastern Ohio raising all kinds of hell, (that) would’ve probably not happened,” Fraunfelter said at city council.

The mayor said he joined a large, “fired-up” conference call with many other mayors in the region after they first heard the news of the broadband cut. He attributed the change in the senate’s plans to this group effort.

“(Senators) got bombarded with letters, emails and phone calls,” the Mayor said. “Southeastern Ohio became alive and well.” The mayor personally sent emails to every member of the state senate, he told The Logan Daily News.

Fraunfelter also pushed against the state’s proposed restrictions on municipal broadband, though they were later removed from the budget as well. “They pulled that out because of us,” he said.

The Logan Daily News previously reported in March on House Bill 2, the piece of legislation that ensures broadband expansion in the state’s 2022 budget by creating the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program and an oversight board. Gov. DeWine signed the bill into law in May.

The bill’s ultimate goal is to incentivize “last mile” broadband expansion. The bill was sponsored by Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) who represents Hocking County in the 78th Ohio House District.

According to 2020 data from the Buckeye Hills Regional Council, up to 90% of households in the “rural expanse” of Hocking County have no access to broadband services. The “rural expanse” is defined as areas with 20 or fewer households per square mile.

Stewart said it’s been a “rollercoaster” to see the broadband funding go from $210 million, which HB 2 originally wished for, to $190 million, to zero, to $250 million within the state’s budget.

However, Stewart said, he always had faith that the funding would ultimately be included in the final product, as the issue has “overwhelming” bipartisan support.

“I never got too high or too low throughout the process,” Stewart said. “I’ve been around long enough to know there’s always some strategy, some gamesmanship throughout the chambers and how we arrive at a final product.”

Stewart said he appreciates Mayor Fraunfelter and others’ efforts. “When there was some suggestion the money (was) not to be included, a lot spoke up pretty loudly,” he confirmed. “It was clear it would not be an acceptable approach for a two-year budget.”

For both Stewart and Fraunfelter, broadband is a number one issue. For the mayor, broadband is an issue of infrastructure. Without it, he believes the city, county and region cannot have competitive manufacturing hubs.

Broadband expansion is estimated to help 1 million Ohioans. Stewart said things are already ramping up, and improved internet access should be coming to Hocking County soon — “(our goal with HB 2 was to begin work) the second half of the year.”

The mayor also discussed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. The city was originally set to get $1.4 million; however, as it has a population less than 50,000, a “non-entitlement,” the state is claiming a little less than half the monies Logan was originally set to receive.

“In other words, the 31 cities that are over 50,000 got absolutely no monies taken away,” Fraunfelter said. “So all of the smaller cities got monies taken away to take care of townships.”

The monies taken away from smaller cities is going to be split among the state’s 88 counties, Fraunfelter explained. According to the National Association of Towns and Townships, Ohio is one of 20 states with such a form of local government; “it was unique in what was going to happen,” the Mayor said.

The city also appointed Chris Maley as the new Logan Fire Department Fire Chief Tuesday evening. Maley thanked the city for furthering his career, saying that he was “honored” to be offered the position.

“I’ve been here for 25 years,” Maley said. “This is where I started my career and I want to end my career here.”

Maley replaces current and retiring Fire Chief Brian Robertson, who’s served as chief for the past 18 years and whose last day will be July 9.

Robertson told The Logan Daily News that Maley successfully subbed for him for six weeks while he recovered from shoulder surgery earlier this year.

“It was like I left on a Friday and came back on a Monday,” Robertson said. “He’ll do fine... It’s been a rewarding career and Chris will take the department and move it forward, onto bigger and better things.”

Council also passed emergency legislation to allow the city to apply for funding through the NatureWorks grant program from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

The funding would be used for new playground equipment at Mingo Park, Councilman James Martin, at-large, and chairperson of the Recreation Committee, said.

In other news, the aforementioned legislation was the only item up for emergency reading:

Resolution No. 22, 2021, which authorizes the mayor to file an application with the ODNR on behalf of the city to apply for financial assistance through the state’s NatureWorks grant program in whatever amounts available for public recreation purposes, with the city agreeing to obligate the fund required to satisfactorily complete the proposed project and become eligible for reimbursement under the terms of the grant program, declaring an emer

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One item was passed on third reading:

  • Ordinance No. 34, 2021, which creates a new line item within the general fund and appropriates $6,700 from unappropriated money in the general fund to the newly created line item

Three items were up for second reading; however, Ordinance No. 44, 2021 was tabled indefinitely. Therefore, only two items were read:

  • Ordinance No. 42, 2021, which appropriates $5,366.37 from unappropriated money in the general fund
  • Ordinance No. 43, 2021, which appropriates $80,000 from unappropriated money in the water fund

Two items were up for first reading:

  • Ordinance No. 45, 2021, which appropriates $11,000 from unappropriated money in the general fund
  • Ordinance No. 46, 2021, which appropriates $25,00 from unappropriated money in the water fund. This ordinance will pay for 10 new fire hydrants, Councilman Jim Robinson, at-large and chairperson of the Finance Committee, said.

The next City Council meeting will be Tuesday, July 13 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers, first floor, 10 S. Mulberry St.

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