I write with deep concern regarding the recent decision to authorize an $11 million bond for a government-owned broadband project in West Springfield. Unfortunately, this decision to fund a pet project that has thus far failed to connect a single customer, after already receiving millions from the town, exemplifies poor financial planning, a lack of transparency, and a misalignment with the community’s most pressing needs.

Whip City Fiber has a track record of not meeting benchmarks set in West Springfield, despite previous investments of $2.5 million for the pilot project. The project continues to miss deadlines and shows no evidence of progress, raising serious concerns about its feasibility and accountability.

West Springfield’s leadership has chosen to ignore these repeated failures and exponentially increase taxpayers’ exposure to risk — all for a pet project that the community does not need.

The approval for this funding comes as West Springfield raises property taxes for the coming year by 4.9%, continues to consider cuts to the education budget, and attempts to navigate additional budgetary concerns for multiple municipal services including public safety.

Mass Priorities is dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of misplaced spending priorities by local governments. We believe that taxpayer dollars should be used for critical services that benefit the entire community, not for speculative ventures that serve only a few.

Much has been made of the idea that Mass Priorities is nothing more than a group of outside agitators, and yet, there were concerned West Springfield residents present at last week’s public hearing to express their opposition to continuing to fund this misguided pet project. We are committed to educating and engaging West Springfield residents so that there can be transparent public debate about the issues facing the town, and we will monitor Whip City Fiber’s buildout to ensure they are transparent about their finances and accomplishing key milestones to connect West Springfield residents.

Government-owned broadband networks in Massachusetts and across New England have a long history of failure where taxpayers end up shouldering significant financial burdens when unrealistic benchmarks aren’t met. Well-documented history has clearly shown that these projects put taxpayers at risk. They have affected the town bond ratings, credit ratings, and future funding capabilities for essential services and capital improvements.

Ignoring these lessons, West Springfield is gambling with taxpayer dollars on a project with a proven track record of failure.

Moving forward, Mass Priorities remains committed to advocating for the responsible use of taxpayer dollars. We will continue to monitor and highlight instances of misplaced priorities in local government spending, in West Springfield, and beyond and we will continue to educate and engage the public on issues that matter most to commonwealth communities, ensuring that local governments prioritize essential needs over unnecessary pet projects.

Christopher Thrasher

Policy director, Mass Priorities