One of the problems of living in a rural area is slow Internet speeds and not enough broadband to do all the things we need to do on the Internet. More and more people are streaming their entertainment off the Internet instead of renting or buying DVDs or watching TV over the air or on cable or satellite. The COVID-19 pandemic really brought home the problem as students were sent home from classes to continue their learning online.
Big River Communications is bringing a solution to this area. Starting in the City of Jackson, Big River plans to string fiber-optic cable on power poles and offer each homeowner the opportunity to connect.
For $25, workers will attach a gray box about the size of a large family Bible to the outside of your house and run fiber optic cable from the pole to your domicile. That will make your home “fiber-optic ready.” You can stop at that point if you don’t wish to have fiber optic access in your home, or you can pay to have it installed and connected inside your home.
Just having it attached to the outside of your home is an advantage, Kevin Cantwell of Big River told the Jackson Mayor and Board of Aldermen Oct. 19 during study session. Homes that are fiber-optic ready have gone up in value 3.1 percent, compared to those connected to coaxial cable, he said. That is an average increase in value of $5,000 to area homes.
Big River and the City of Jackson are currently hammering out a deal for fiber optic cable to be strung on the City’s utility poles. “We want to put fiber optic on poles the City owns,” Cantwell told the Board. So far, 1,325 poles have been identified. This will provide fiber optic to 40 percent of Jackson. The other 60 percent will be serviced by fiber optic cable that will be buried.
One reason Big River started with Jackson is that the City owns most of the utility poles, Cantwell said.
Once approved, it will take about a year to finish the installation. Big River then will expand its fiber-optic cable into Cape Girardeau, beginning on the north end of town.
Workers will knock on doors as they install cable in the area. Homeowners can say yes or no to the $25 installation to the outside of their homes. However, if they say no at this time (while workers are in their neighborhoods), and then decide later to connect, it will cost $200 to $250, because workers will have to come back to make the installation.
A total of 7,529 connections are planned for Jackson, if everyone says yes.
Big River also plans to have a retail location in Jackson for customers and future customers to access the company more easily.
• UJRO: The Board renewed a contract with the Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization for a two-year term with an annual fee of $25,000, beginning Jan. 1, 2021.
• Election set: A general municipal election was set for Tuesday, April 6, to fill the offices of the mayor and Board of Aldermen.
• Communications tower: The Board approved a contract with the County to lease space atop a water tower on the north end of town for the installation of an emergency communications tower. It will replace the aging tower that currently stands behind the old county courthouse.
The City will also be able to use the new tower.
• Public hearing set: The Board set a public hearing for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16, to consider the vacation of a public alley at Weltecke’s Addition.
In a related matter, during study session, resident Lisa Boyd said she had been taking care of vacant property next to hers and wondered what it would take to make that property part of hers. That small slice of land is an undeveloped street that exists only on maps (called a “paper street”) and has no utilities running through it. Before the City can vacate it so she could purchase it, a public hearing will be set.
• Recycling: The Board approved a contract with Midwest Recycling Center of Imperial, relative to the electronic waste recycling services.
• Sale of land: The Board approved a contract for the sale of real estate with Richard Hartle for a 0.78 tract of land located at 1025 S. Farmington Road.
• No Santa Claus this year: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some activities that usually included appearances by Santa Claus will go on without him.
The Flip-the-Switch party in City Park, which takes place the Friday evening after Thanksgiving, will be a small affair that will be live streamed. There will be no food trucks, large gatherings of people, or activities under the pavilion, including a visit from Santa. Instead, there will be packets of children’s activities that will be made available for them to do at home.
The UJRO will have its Christmas parade at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 6, as usual. But there will not be visits with Santa afterward, as in years past.
• Veterans Day: It was announced that the JHS Veterans Day program will go on at 9 a.m., but veterans will not be invited in person to the high school. They may watch it on the Internet. The Jackson Veterans Day parade will go on as usual (see separate story in this issue).
• Historical buildings: It was announced that an informational meeting regarding the historical district of Uptown Jackson will be from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, at the Civic Center. Photos of historical buildings will be on display as a study of Jackson historical buildings is organized. The public is invited.
• City employee insurance: The Board discussed plans for insuring City employees next year. If the City stays with its current insurance company, United Healthcare, premiums will increase 20.9 percent. If the City stayed with United, it would have to make changes to the plan (such as having employees pay more). Although more expensive, this would cause the least amount of disruption in service.
Four other options were discussed, including going with Saint Francis’ new health insurance coverage that keeps Southeast Hospital “in network” and SoutheastHEALTH’s “narrow” plan in which Saint Francis is not “in network.”
There are some options in which employees would not see their deductibles raised. Alderman Paul Sander said he was in favor of those options.
A decision will be made by the aldermen at the Nov. 2 meeting.
• Low water bridges: During study session, the Board discussed the low water bridges over Hubble Creek in City Park with Bill Robison of PE/Smith & Company Engineers.
Several different widths and configurations were considered for Hubble ford in the middle of the park. The Aldermen liked the widest option, a 22-foot wide clear span bridge that included a 14-foot wide roadway and an 8-foot wide sidewalk. With this option, it could be converted to a two-lane traffic bridge in the future if needed, and a sidewalk could be attached to one side of the bridge.
For the Mary Street Bridge, the Board gave the green light to go ahead and get the design of the bridge ready for the project and include the completion the sidewalks on both ends of the bridge as an “alternate” to the main project. If the bridge should be completed for less than the cost estimate, the sidewalks would then be completed.
The City is pursuing grants to help fund both bridges. Having the design work done increases the chances of getting the grants approved.
• Civic Center rental rates: The Board approved rate increases at the Jackson Civic Center. Room rentals will go up $10 and adjustments have been made to add-ons, such as adding a dance floor or staging.
The cost increases are needed because Proposition B increased minimum wage from $7.75 to $12 by 2023. That labor cost increase needs to come from somewhere.
COVID-19 did affect the Civic Center this year. It was closed for six weeks and had to issue 73 refunds. Rentals are now slowly getting back to normal, but daily fees are still lagging behind because some people who used to exercise there are still afraid to get out.
• Old Cape Road: The Board discussed the closing of Old Cape Road in two areas as water mains will be replaced. Coming off of East Jackson Boulevard near Johannes, traffic will be reduced to one lane from East Jackson Boulevard onto Old Cape Road. (Eastbound traffic on Old Cape Road will be detoured.)
Farther west, where Old Cape Road turns and crosses the Iron Mountain Railroad railroad tracks, there will be a complete closure (local traffic only will be allowed) and a detour will be marked. The contractor suggested a detour using Michael Anna but a retaining wall makes it difficult for traffic to pull out from Michael Anna onto East Jackson Boulevard. The City will request that a different detour be used.