OTIS — Local home and business owners have reached the on-ramp of a faster information super highway.
By a count of 162-69, voters Tuesday agreed to exempt from the tax levy limit of Proposition 2 ½ the town's share of the cost to design, build, install and activate a broadband network with the help of a state agency.
The special election saw 231 out of 1,105 registered voters — a 21 percent turnout — cast ballots at Otis Town Hall.
In early October, a special town meeting overwhelmingly approved the project, 132-16.
The exemption was necessary if the town is to borrow up to $4 million of the estimated $5.5 million needed to upgrade the South Berkshire community'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.
The bond would add 59 cents to the property tax rate over the first two years of the loan. Homeowners would shell out, on average, an additional $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say the broadband project will drive Otis out of the stone age of its current Internet service, which is either outdated or non-existent in this rural town of more than 1,600 residents. The population swells considerably during the summer with tourists and second homeowners.
Over this past summer, the Board of 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 MBI 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.