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WATERLOO — A national taxpayer watchdog organization is joining the debate over a possible city-owned broadband utility.

Chip Baltimore of the Washington, D.C.-based Taxpayers Protection Alliance questioned City Council members Monday about plans to use city bond funds for a consultant to study the issue.

“We’ve been monitoring these efforts throughout the state,” Baltimore said. “One of the things I’m most concerned about on behalf of the taxpayers of your community is that you’re using borrowed money … simply to do a pre-feasibility study on a government-owned internet system.”

City Council members voted 6-0 to approve reallocating some $110,000 in general obligation bonds to pay for Magellan Advisors of Denver, Colo., to look at a potential city-owned utility. Councilman Steve Schmitt was absent.

The study is driven by concerns voiced by local businesses and residents about the quality of the city’s current broadband providers, the largest being Mediacom and CenturyLink.

But Baltimore, a lawyer and former state representative from Boone, questioned using money to be repaid with property tax dollars over the next eight years “all for a study for something that quite honestly I’m not sure that you need.”

“When property tax revenues are spent to repay borrowed money stretched over years on very speculative projects like I anticipate this will be, I think that’s a concern,” he added.

The Taxpayers Protection Alliance bills itself as a nonpartisan organization “dedicated to educating the public through research, investigative reporting, and analysis about the effects of excessive taxation and spending by all levels of government.”

The organization has taken stances against local governments investing in broadband utilities that compete against private sector providers.

It is funding an ad campaign opposing a municipal utility on the ballot in Fort Dodge next month and has advocated against a current $9 million fiber-to-the-home utility being constructed in Vinton.

Rich Kurtenbach is a member of the Waterloo Telecommunications Utility Board, which asked the city to pay for the Magellan Advisors feasibility study.

“I for one am a fed-up resident of this community having to deal with the two primary (providers) we have for internet services in this city, either with Mediacom or with CenturyLink,” Kurtenbach said.

“So anybody that’s been on the phone and waiting for more than an hour to get answers from either one of these businesses should be supporting this and supporting what we’re looking at doing with this feasibility study and what we’re looking for to make our community better and have internet access,” he added.

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