Greenfield city councilors seek more transparency on GCET spending

Greenfield officials meet with GCET commissioners last week to discuss the internet and cable provider’s progress in the city.

Greenfield officials meet with GCET commissioners last week to discuss the internet and cable provider’s progress in the city. STAFF PHOTO/ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 06-12-2024 7:09 PM

GREENFIELD — Before Mayor Ginny Desorgher allocates the remaining $400,000 of the $1,035,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money that the former mayor promised to Greenfield Community Energy and Technology, city councilors met with GCET officials at their Main Street headquarters last week, seeking transparency on the internet provider’s progress and use of city funding.

Since the internet service company began installing television and internet cables around the city in 2017, GCET General Manager John Lunt said the provider has 10 utility pole licenses in the city, with service already established downtown.

The provider is currently using ARPA appropriations for its North Build, a project that aims to bring service to the Bernardston Road, Colrain Road, Meadow Lane and Green River Road area as well as the area of Leyden and Country Club roads. According to City Accountant Angelica Desroches, the city has provided the company nearly $5.79 million in capital funds and $397,271 in Community Development Block Grants since 2017. City Council President John Bottomley also noted that GCET has repaid all of its bonds using revenue from its current operations.

Even after years of work and millions in funding, Lunt said GCET cannot provide an accurate estimated date of completion for the North Build, as the process of licensing the company’s use of utility poles, which are owned by Verizon and Eversource, is turning out to be lengthy, costly and complex.

“It’s a messy thing to work through because it’s really the last monopoly left in tech. The utility pole owners know exactly what they’ve got and they know exactly how to use it,” Lunt said. “Even though they’ve been good to work with, Verizon is a direct competitor of ours, so they don’t really want us on their poles, but we do what we can to move things along as quickly as we can.”

One of the more timely and costly aspects of the utility pole attachment installation, Lunt said, is a Federal Communications Commission process known as “make-ready,” or the modification or replacement of a utility pole, or of lines or equipment on the utility pole, to accommodate additional facilities. Lunt said GCET is ultimately responsible for covering the costs of these pole adjustments.

When Bottomley asked Lunt if the approximately $600,000 in ARPA funding GCET has already received from the city was used only to pay fees, make-ready and pole licensing, Lunt responded that GCET has used the ARPA funds on equipment, engineering, make-ready and labor, with approximately $170,000 to $200,000 being spent on make-ready and other fees. Of the remaining roughly $400,000 promised ARPA funds, Lunt said $100,000 will be used for the North Build.

“We had to buy miles and miles of fiber-optic cable, we had to buy radios, we had to pay for our own engineering,” Lunt said. “A lot of it is just waiting and that’s why, at this point, to not finish would be tragic because we’ve sunk so much money into it.”

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Lunt also said that since the service provider has paid off all of its city bonds, no taxpayer dollars are currently being used to fund its build-out.

Noting that the city has received numerous bills of about $20,000 for make-ready repairs, without mentioning where the work will be done, Desorgher asked GCET officials for increased transparency on what, exactly, the city is funding. In response, Lunt said future bills will include a location for the build.

In a statement sent to the Greenfield Recorder on Tuesday, Bottomley said GCET’s use of ARPA funds surprised him, explaining that the city was under the impression that the funds would be used solely for the North Build.

“I was surprised to learn that ARPA funds were used to address past licensing issues. We were led to believe that these funds were for the northern build-out only. Going forward, we need to be on the same page, especially since it appears likely that GCET will come to City Council in the future for additional build-out funding,” Bottomley wrote.

Lunt said Wednesday that GCET has worked with each of Greenfield’s mayoral administrations since it began working in the city. He said GCET would be “happy to provide” the Desorgher administration whatever clarity or information it requests. In an email sent to the Recorder on Wednesday, Lunt added that the mayor and the Accounting Department have a record of “all spending for GCET,” including ARPA funding, for the last six years. He said all of the provider’s operational expenditures and revenues are transparent and audited annually by the city.

In another email sent to the Recorder on Wednesday, GCET Board of Commissioners Chair Tim Farrell echoed Lunt’s remarks, asserting that any claim alleging a lack of transparency is “a misunderstanding.”

“Any questions they have asked in the past were answered,” Farrell said of city government officials. “Unfortunately they rarely asked questions and never attended a meeting. A lack of understanding is not the same as a lack of transparency.”

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.