Fiber project could draw business to county

The laying of fiber optic cable for faster internet in the next two years is expected to be an economic boon for Monticello, and Piatt County government could be one of the first recipients.

A company has already expressed interest in renting space at the Piatt County Office Building (old Kirby hospital) to house racks of computer drives, then sell cloud-based storage space as the key part of its business.

“If it wasn’t for the fiber they wouldn’t even be thinking of coming here,” said Richard Wilkin at the county Building and Grounds Committee meeting on Nov. 7. He estimated the county could reap about $100,000 in revenue annually if it could land the firm, which he declined to name.

The county, City of Monticello, Allerton Public Library and Monticello School District are splitting the estimated $12,000-$16,000 for engineering costs related to the fiber optics project, as well as the $200,000-$240,000 cost to lay the cable.

Because the computer drives at the office building would generate plenty of heat, the data storage firm would need ample cooling, which the county thinks it can provide.

County officials are also making sure there is sufficient grounding of electrical lines into the building. That includes better grounding for the old hospital tower.

“There really is no good grounding system,” said Wilkin, who felt that situation would need to be corrected whether the cloud-based storage company located there or not. County officials are still trying to figure out what needs to be done on the grounding front as they gather more information on what the company would need in order to locate its services in the office building.

Another issue could be whether the backup generator has enough capacity.

“We have no problem giving them enough power,” said County Maintenance Supervisor Scott Stephenson. “The problem could be having enough backup power.”

On a related front, the county is also researching a better way to ground the tower at the Public Safety Building (jail).

Annex building
The county is still searching for a bidder for the its annex building, which has been empty since county offices moved to the old Kirby property last fall and winter.

A June auction failed to receive the required $90,000 opening bid set by the county, and it also failed to sell by sealed bid. The county then conducted a Phase I environmental site assessment in an effort to assure potential buyers there would be no significant cleanup concerns.

Wilkin said the City of Monticello had informed him of potential bidders for the annex building. That was confirmed by city Director of Community Development Callie McFarland, who said there were at least two parties interested in the property.

“My office actually gets several calls per month on this site and we are more than happy to work with the county in getting the site developed to a use that is compatible with the downtown,” said McFarland.

The county tabled action on an electric rate bid from the county’s current provider, AEP Energy. The rate would actually drop from about 4.4 cents to 4.1 cents per kilowatt/hour, but county leaders want to consider what length of contract to sign.

Also tabled was an estimated $3,100 in repairs to a 2001 Ford truck used by the maintenance department. The county recently put $1,600 into brake work for the 106,000 mile vehicle, and may look at purchasing another one instead of making further repairs.

The county is also looking for office space in the courthouse for Roger Simpson, who has become the permanent public defender. He is temporarily being housed in a jury room at the courthouse.

Other action
In other action, the board

• opted not to spend $3,168 to remove three unused transformers at the county office building, but will contact the company about a cost to remove their fuses;

• plans to reduce the number of heat and smoke sensors in the office building from 136 to 125, which will reduce both the amount of false alarms and the cost for yearly testing. Stephenson said in some areas there were sensors every seven feet, which is excessive now that the building has been converted from a hospital to an office building.

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