OTIS — Voters this week decide the fate of high-speed Internet service in Otis.
The lone ballot item during Tuesday's special election calls for exempting from the tax levy limit under Proposition 2 1/2 the town's share of the cost to build, install and activate a broadband network in collaboration with the state.
Polls are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Otis Town Hall.
By a vote of 132 to 16, townspeople last month approved borrowing up to $4 million of the estimated $5.5 million needed to upgrade the town's Internet service. The loan, combined with $1.8 million in funding from the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, will fund the project. The extra $300,000 being borrowed is seen as a contingency, according to town officials.
If approved at the polls, the plan to borrow up to $4 million would add 59 cents to the property tax rate over the first two years of the loan. Homeowners would pay on average an extra $189.13 total for the two-year period based on the average house value assessed for tax purposes at $319,000. The tax impact would remain steady through half the loan, gradually decreasing after year 10 of the 20-year bond.
Proponents say the broadband project will bring Otis out of the stone age of its current Internet service, which is either outdated or non-existent in this rural South Berkshire Community.
Many who spoke at the special town meeting Oct. 6 cited the inability to connect with clients or customers for their businesses or unable to please visiting relatives eager for the latest high-tech entertainment.
Over the summer, the Selectmen, backed by the town's Technology and Finance committees, agreed to break away from WiredWest, a cooperative of 44 rural Western Massachusetts towns working with the state broadband institute to bring high-speed Internet service to the region.
Town officials balked at the prospect that WiredWest would own and control the network and farm out the Internet provider services, and they want the flexibility to decide who runs the system, so they will instead work directly with the state agency.