Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Network manager sought in Butler

High-tech system a campaign topic

By John Kiesewetter
Enquirer staff writer

HAMILTON - Butler County commissioners agreed Monday to search for a company to manage and market the county's 120-mile fiber-optic network, which has been criticized by political opponents.

Commission candidates Rusty Thomas, Catherine Stoker and J. Michael Best have called for the commissioners to sell the high-tech network, which costs the county $400,000 annually in debt service and maintenance fees.

But on Monday, commissioners decided to form a committee to seek proposals from businesses wanting to operate the system.

The move came after they heard a presentation from CBS Technologies of Carthage saying the county could save $12,000 a month and make at least $6 million annually if the company took over the system.

Jim Smith, CBS Technologies marketing director, said his company wants to upgrade voice, data and video capability, then offer those services to communications companies and other businesses.

"I think you'd be a giant magnet for businesses if you do this," Smith said.

With new equipment, the county also could provide wireless internet for police and medical emergency personnel, traffic camera surveillance, automated meter reading and other services, he said.

Commissioners Greg Jolivette and Michael A. Fox said Monday they don't want the county to run the network, which cost $5.7 million to install. "The county needs to find someone in the private sector to take this over, without any more tax dollars being spent on it," said Jolivette, who is running for re-election next month against Thomas, a Hamilton attorney.

Fox suggested creating the task, force consisting of Jolivette and eight county department heads, to seek and review proposals.

Jolivette said the timing of Monday's presentation was not politically motivated. About three weeks ago, Smith had approached him about making a pitch for running the fiber-optic network, Jolivette said.

Stoker and Best, who are running against Fox in one race, attended Monday's meeting and planned to ask questions about the fiber network. They were not given time to speak, because Commission President Chuck Furmon abruptly recessed the meeting so commissioners could attend a previously scheduled staff briefing.

Best said he was caught off guard by the fiber-optic presentation Monday.

"I have to rethink what I was going to ask. I was just floored. I had no idea this talk about the fiber-optic network was going on behind the scenes," said Best, a former Fairfield council member.

Stoker, a West Chester Township trustee, said the county should cut its losses and sell the network. "If the fiber-optic system is such a great idea, then why aren't more people using it?" she said.

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com

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