Piedmont City Council plans vote next week on whether to resume Internet payments
by Laura Gaddy
lbgaddy@annistonstar.com
Nov 27, 2013 | 2837 views |  0 comments | 102 102 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PIEDMONT — The City Council met Tuesday to discuss whether it will uphold an agreement with the city Board of Education to resume monthly payments of $6,250 to provide students with free Internet access in their homes.

The work session lasted more than an hour and the council plans to vote on the matter next week, but whether the city will reinstate the payment was unclear Tuesday. Piedmont Mayor Bill Baker said the council’s decision could come down to a contractual agreement with Information Transportation Services, the company that pays the city $6,500 monthly to use Piedmont’s cables to provide students with the wireless service.

“If we don’t help the school I really don’t think ITS is going to keep giving the city money,” Baker said. “I think the contract will stop.”

It was unclear to council members whether the company would discontinue the payment to them if they fail to reinstate the payment to the schools, but Baker said he would call company officials today to ask.

Councilman Terry Kiser said whether he supports the payment could depend on the ITS payment.

If the company were to stop making its $6,500 payments to the city because the city stopped making its $6,250 payments to the schools, he said, that would be reason for the city to resume paying the schools for the students’ Internet.

Some council members said they think the schools will find a way to continue making the payment without city support.

“In my opinion the school is going to come up with some money,” Councilwoman Brenda Spears said. “I’m looking out for the city.”

Newly appointed Councilman Mark Harper said he thinks too much hangs in the balance for students to let the money get in the way. The at-home Internet service enhances Piedmont school’s innovative technology program, for which it has received thousands in grant funding and national recognition.

“Money is tight right now but I don’t think the $6,250 is really going to put the city in dire financial straits,” Harper said.

Council members Frank Cobb, Ben Keller and Spears each questioned the affordability of the expense during the meeting and said their first responsibility is to the financial stability of the city. They pointed out that the city is already paying about $27,000 per month in bond debt for a stadium construction project and other athletic facility improvements at the high school.

“We can’t keep paying it, I know that,” Keller said of the Internet payment. “They ought to be be happy to be getting what they’re getting from us.”

In 2011, the city agreed to make the payment monthly for three years to help the schools provide Internet service to students at home and elsewhere in the school district. Over the course of the agreement the city was to pay $200,000 and to date it has paid about $50,000 of that.

The payments were halted last November by former Mayor Rick Freeman, city officials have said. Since late summer the city and the schools have been in talks about reinstating the program, and earlier this fall Superintendent Matt Akin officially asked the council to resume the payment.

The City Council planned to vote on the matter at the last meeting, but postponed the decision to discuss it in greater detail at the work session Tuesday. Harper was the only member to speak out in support of reinstating the payment at the meeting.

“This is an agreement that came from the city before,” Harper said. “We should honor it.”

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.

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