Fiber-optic network could be expanded with federal funds

Chris Roark
Waxahachie Daily Light

The city of Waxahachie is looking to use some of its federal emergency funding to help expand its fiber-optic system.

During a recent work session Deputy City Manager Albert Lawrence told the City Council the city is set to receive $4.7 million next summer as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (CLFRF).

Person looking at a line chart on a laptop.

The city already received $4.7 million in the first phase of funding.

Lawrence said the money can be used for costs incurred from March 3, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2026. But all costs must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024.

The money can be used for a variety of things: responding to the public health emergency related to COVID-19 or its negative impacts; responding to workers providing essential work during the pandemic by providing premium pay; a provision of government services to the extent of the reduction of revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency; and to make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.

The city staff identified 11 infrastructure projects it needs to complete in the next few years.

One of those is to expand its fiber-optic system into all city facilities so the city can improve its supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) network, which allows for widespread interaction of various devices such as sensors, motors and pumps. But expanding the fiber could also lead to better residential connectivity.

“Once you get this in place you can then potentially partner with a third party, whether it’s AT&T or whoever, that they can use that fiber to tap into and get them closer to certain neighborhoods,” Lawrence said.

Albert Lawrence

Officials said the conversations have already begun on addressing the connectivity issue.

“There’s a local company here in town that we’ve had several meetings with that has a really cool enterprise LTE solution,” said Chris Cunningham with Unified ConneXions, the IT provider for the city. “The only thing we need to look at in more detail is when you get into some of the high populated neighborhoods is bandwidth utilization. Are you going to be able to provide a solution to give them adequate bandwidth?”

Cunningham said the system could benefit city services as well.

“We have internal connectivity as well that we can look at,” Cunningham said. “We talk about the enterprise LTE network, we can even look at that for police cars, fire engines and all of our city transportation.”

Cunningham said some neighborhoods don’t have LTE service or broadband.

“That’s the worst because then they can’t do anything,” Cunningham said.

The fiber expansion is expected to cost $1.5 million.

City Manager Michael Scott said how the city is going to address internet connectivity is a question that’s frequently asked. Scott said this plan would be one of multiple efforts to expand fiber in the city.

The council also supported using the funds to expand the Jefferson Street lift station, which was listed as the top priority by the city staff. It is projected to cost $5.5 million.

A third project the council supported using the funding for is a new generator at the Howard Road high service lift station, another city priority. The cost is expected to be approximately $1 million.

Other projects on the list were generators at the Grand Avenue and Indian pump stations, rehabilitating and replacing four existing generator control panels and electronic components, repairing recommended repairs to South Prong Dam, expansion of the Lower Mustang Creek lift station and public health expenses, such as COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, booster shots, protective equipment, first responder supplies, etc.

Others on the list were purchasing a pump motor for the Grove Creek lift station; engineering for the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant; and upgrading the gabion system at the Rogers Street Bridge and Getzendaner to protect creek beds and trails from erosion.

Lawrence said the total for all of the proposed projects is estimated to be between $25 million and $30 million, though he said the federal funding isn’t the only option to pay for them.  

“They’re all valid projects, they need to be done and they’ll need to be paid for,” Lawrence said. “The good thing is if we use these funds we have available that might eliminate or prevent future rate increases for water and wastewater, or the rate increases might not be quite as drastic.”

Lawrence said these funds would also keep the city from having to issue as much debt for these projects. He said the federal funds can’t be used to reduce the tax rate.

He said if the funds aren’t used the city has to pay it back to the state, which distributed the money from the federal government.