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Garfield County secures broadband grant; approves housing bond transfer

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On Sept. 7, Garfield County announced that it has secured a $1.7 million grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) to support the county’s ongoing project to improve local broadband infrastructure.

Plans to improve broadband internet in Garfield County have been underway since May of 2016, when Garfield and Mesa counties partnered to assess the internet needs of both businesses and residents. Since then, Garfield County has worked with several private contractors in the planning process and early stages of implementation. 

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In December of 2021, the Board of County Commissioners shifted focus and funding toward “middle-mile” broadband infrastructure. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for reliable, high-speed internet service, as many Americans worked, attended school, met with doctors and communicated with loved ones online,” stated a press release.

“Middle-mile” refers to the portion of a telecommunications network — in this case a physical fiber cable — which connects a large core network to local “meet-me” centers. These “meet-me” centers are generally designed to serve areas as large as a town, and the case of Garfield County will be carrier-neutral, so that residents regardless of their internet provider should be supported.

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The first phase of middle-mile infrastructure is already underway, connecting the core network running along I-70 to locations in Glenwood Springs and Rifle. This portion of the network is expected to be completed this year. The second phase, now undergoing preliminary engineering, will connect locations in Parachute, Silt and New Castle. The recent $1.7 million grant, secured from the Colorado DOLA and matched by the American Rescue Plan Act, is designed to help cover the costs for the second phase of middle-mile infrastructure.

The third phase of Garfield County’s ongoing broadband improvement project will be the implementation of “last-mile” infrastructure. This stage is what connects the individual user to the whole of the network. The end goal of the broadband project is to secure high-speed internet access for every resident of Garfield County currently outside service areas.

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On Sept. 9, Garfield County also announced that it had assigned its private activity bond (PAB) cap to the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) to be used toward affordable housing initiatives. More than $3.4 million will be directed to the CHFA, which will issue bonds to various programs in the county.

PABs are tax-exempt bonds issued by the government toward projects with public benefit. The state cap for these bonds is assigned by the IRS and allocated to counties and municipalities. Possible initiatives these PABs may be applied toward include first-time homebuyer loan programs, mortgage bonds for low to moderate-income citizens and construction of housing for low to moderate-income citizens.

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Garfield County has transferred bonds to CHFA in the past. In 2019, the county allocated $3.15 million to CHFA to be issued to qualified homebuyers. This capacity was used to help finance the CHFA’s FirstStep and FirstStep Plus programs. The former is a tax-exempt, fixed-rate first mortgage loan and the latter is a second mortgage for up to 4% of the first loan’s amount. Both qualified veterans and first-time homebuyers are eligible for this program.

Applicants must also attend a homebuyer education class, contribute a minimum of $1,000 of their own funds toward the purchase of their home and have a minimum credit score of 580. 

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Additionally, applicants are limited on their purchase price and must fall into a designated income range depending on the size of their household. For Garfield County, the income limit for a 1–2 person household is $72,200. For a 3+ person household, the income limit is $83,000 and the purchase limit for any applicant is $382,500. 

According to the economic development page on Garfield County’s website, “38% of residents are in the low-wage earning group ($21,700 to $37,800); 33% are in the mid-wage range ($44,000 to $56,800); and 29% are considered high-wage earners ($58,500 to $96,500).” This places a majority of Garfield County residents within the eligible bracket for CHFA loans.

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Garfield County residents interested in CHFA programs can learn more at www.chfainfo.com

Tags: #broadband #Colorado Housing and Finance Authority #DOLA #Garfield County
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