Notes from Commissioner Galen Niederwerder

The Meade County Commission met in session Wednesday, November 23rd.

We always begin the meeting with a prayer led by one of the Commissioners, and since it was the day before Thanksgiving, I shared a story about  the first and second Thanksgivings.  It’s a very interesting story, but too long to go into here; you should Google it.

The one item that seemed to have everyone’s attention was Commissioner Alan Aker’s offer to resign, if asked by the Commission to do so.  That offer apparently stemmed from an article in the Meade County Times and Rapid City Journal, noting his absences from several meetings over the last few months since his reinstatement.  That article led to an editorial in the Journal calling for his resignation. This offer was very unusual, to say the least, and I do not know why he made it.  None of his fellow commissioners had ever considered asking him to resign; it’s a pretty slippery slope once board members start calling for fellow members to resign - you might be the next one asked.

And even if we did want him to, there’s no legal basis for the Commission to do so.  According to Deputy States Attorney Ken Chleborad, the law in South Dakota states a commissioner can only be removed for: misconduct, malfeasance, nonfeasance, crimes in office, drunkenness, gross incompetency, corruption, theft, oppression, or gross partiality.  And it takes a court action to accomplish that; the Board does not make such a determination.  So, as Chair, I declined to allow discussion on the item; the other Commissioners could have over-ruled the chair, but no-one made a motion to do so.

We also discussed placing a guard rail in front of a house, which is too close to the public right-of-way on Ft. Meade Way.  An accident occurred there after the storm and came within several feet of the dwelling.  The only reason I placed it on the agenda was to address a potentially dangerous situation; however, remarks from the homeowner quickly sunk into a diatribe of accusations against the Sheriff’s Office.  Sheriff Ron Merwin wasn’t able to be at the meeting, and Commissioner Aker spoke up to stop the homeowner from continuing her verbal assault until the Sheriff could be available to defend himself and his department.  To his credit, the Sheriff has agreed to meet with a group of homeowners regarding speed enforcement, and the Commission will also take up the matter at our first meeting in December. 

There are two positions open on the Planning Board, and we are soliciting applications at this time.  (Just contact the Commissioner’s Office.)  I would like to see some applications from the rural part of the county; even though we’re not affected as much out here, it would be nice to get a different perspective sometimes.  The pay is $100 per meeting, plus mileage.

We were honored to recognize as Veteran of the Month Mr. Ben Wallace.  Ben served four tours of duty in Vietnam; a total of 49 months.  He re-upped for a fifth, but his commanding officers sent him home.  He lived for many years in California, before deciding to move to Sturgis after attending the Rally several times.  By the way, he said the Fort Meade Veteran’s Center is the best VA Center he’s ever visited.  Thank you again, for your service, Ben.

Notes from Commissioner Robert Heidgerken

Robert Heidgerken - District 5 

Robert Heidgerken - District 5 

Our Veteran of the Month is Mr. Keith Marshall.  Thank you for your service.

The 2017 budget took up most of our time at our last commission meeting. The biggest item was the highway department.  The proposed highway budget for 2017 is just over $7 million which nearly equals our highest highway budget ever of $7.1 million for 2016.  

We will be replacing or repairing five bridges with monies from the state bridge fund.  This is available to us because of the wheel tax and submitting a 5 year highway plan to the State. We plan on crushing $750,000 worth of gravel; it will take a while, but this should improve some of our roads. We also budgeted $65,000 to engineer the south part of New Underwood Road to the County line to straighten out the curve at the top of the hill.  We will do this project at the same time Pennington County does their side. 

Other 2017 budget items included allocations to Faith Library at $9,000, Piedmont Library at $15,000, and Sturgis Library at $24,231. Elk Creek Conservation District was budgeted $20,000 and Tri-County Conservation District at $10,000 with an additional $11,000 (one time opportunity) for equipment purchase. Sturgis Economic Development Committee was allotted $25,000,  SDSU 4-H was budgeted $31,000 and the Meade County Fair Board at $8,500. 

Highway Superintendent Lincoln Shuck is trying a new treatment for dust control and to stabilize the road bed on Avalanche Road.  This is the road to the Sturgis city dump.  If this holds up for more than two years as advertised, it could replace some of the mag water we now use.  Hopefully, it will not be as messy on cars or as icy in the winter.

The highway department will be doing dig outs and repairs on the New Underwood Road.  They will also be working with the State to begin weighing trucks at this location - so be aware.  The Commission asked for bids on the Elm Springs Road to be opened on August 24th for the rebuild of the road on the north side of Alkali Creek.  We will replace the deck of the bridge at the same time.  These are just a few of the projects we discussed, more to come later.

FEMA presented a Community Rating System Certification Award to Meade County.  

Meade County is the only county in the State of South Dakota that has qualified all residents in the floodplain for a reduction in their flood insurance rates. Deputy Director of Planning Bill Rich and Jennifer Williams did the GIS work to get this award.  Good work Bill and Jennifer!

The Commission approved all the new/transfer of alcohol licenses for the Full Throttle Saloon & Campground LLC and to Pappy Hoel Campground.  Both are owned by Mr. Ballard.

The Commission also designated Fort Meade Way as a Beautification Area.  This will limit billboards to business property for self-identification.

And finally, we issued a Drought Disaster Declaration for Meade County.  This is the first step for state aid for fire fighting and other programs. 

Enjoy the cool weather while it lasts!

Notes from Commissioner Linda Rausch

Linda Rausch, District 3 Commissioner

Linda Rausch, District 3 Commissioner

It is hot and too dry.  We are all praying for rain.

Meade County Commissioners met for the second time this month on Wednesday, June 22.  The major business before the Commission was the preliminary budget for 2017.  When we hold budget hearings, all of the folks who want money from the County show up to ask for funding.  Those who want to limit spending and keep taxes down only show up during tax appeals. The Commissioners remember the taxpayers and maintain the balance as they consider the budget.  

In the last meeting we heard from people and organizations who were requesting funding from the County for things that the County is not required to fund.  In this meeting we heard from county offices/departments about their financial needs to do the County’s business and serve the citizens of Meade County.  All respective offices did a good job of requesting just what they need to operate and not what they may want.  

The big challenge this year is in the highway budget.  We are a victim of our own success.  We were approved by the State’s Bridge Improvement (BIG) to receive funding for two bridge improvements and studies on two others.  We will submit for funding for the bridge replacements based on the two studies, plus we intend to do a bridge replacement related to the improvements on Elk Vale and Elk Creek Roads.  This means we will spend about $6 million dollars in repairing or replacing five bridges next year.  $4.5 million will come from the State, but we need to provide matching funds totaling about $1.5 million.  This is in addition to the normal $5 million for road maintenance that we fund annually.  This will be good for our roads and bridges, but some other initiatives may need to be put on hold.

The other budget challenge is with health care costs for our county employees.  We are expecting about a 10% increase in rates.  We won’t be able to confirm this number until September, but we are including the 10% in our preliminary budget which is due in July.

In addition to budgets, we talked about roads.  It is the time of year when we apply “mag water” for dust control and road stabilization.  Some citizens appeared to express their disdain for the mess and corrosiveness of “mag water.”  They asked us not to apply it to our roads.  About as many people attended who supported the use of “mag water” and brought signed petitions to continue.  After much discussion, the Commission directed the Highway Superintendent to continue with the “mag water” application.  The highway department is testing a new substance that accomplishes the dust control and road stabilization just like “mag water.”  It is less corrosive and only needs to be applied once every five years versus annually.  If the test is successful, we may have changes to the “mag water” plan next year.

We talked speed limits on Ft. Meade Way.  No changes approved.  Sheriff Ron Merwinagreed to step up speed enforcement on this new road.

We extended the time for Bear Butte Water to complete their installation of new waterlines until May of 2017.  They informed us that many folks already are using water from the system and when finished there will be over 200 taps.

We approved a transfer of liquor licenses to the new owner of Glencoe.  We sent a letter to the SD water management board for a hearing in July to uphold the right of counties to impose ordinances on sewage treatment.

Lastly, we authorized the attorney representing us in the Buffalo Chip Incorporation lawsuit to appeal the recent court decision to the SD Supreme Court.  The costs for this appeal will be paid by the Buffalo Chip Campground. There will be no additional fees charged to the County.  A majority of the Commissioners did not agree with the decision by the court.  This is the quickest and most effective way to settle the legality of the Buffalo Incorporation as a City, once and for all.

Stay cool this summer!  Be careful of the dry conditions.  When the fire danger rating reaches Very High, a countywide burn ban is in effect.  No burning or fireworks displays without permission from the County.

Notes from Commissioner Galen Niederwerder

First, let me congratulate the winners of the June 7th primary election for the County Commission - Doreen Creed and Ted Seaman.  You both won hard-fought victories. And I want to join with the other commissioners to thank Bob Bertolotto and Alan Aker for their service to Meade County these last several years.

The day after the election, the Commission held its first discussions on the 2017 county budget.  The discussions were limited to the non-mandated portion of the budget, since we don’t have all the information compiled to complete it yet.  By non-mandated, I mean consideration for requests for funding from organizations the state doesn’t statutorily mandate counties to fund, such as fire protection, libraries, CASA, etc. 

There were many people in attendance to give us their views on these requests, especially for the libraries; Angela Ostrander from Faith, Jane Abernathy from Piedmont, and  Julie Moore Peterson from Sturgis.  All gave compelling reasons why the libraries in the County need additional funding, and the citizens, including more than a few children, echoed their sentiments.  We also heard from Bob Young and Walt Haley for the volunteer fire departments, Dan Ainsley from the City of Sturgis, and Diane Hahn from Tri-County Conservation.  I especially appreciate Angela and Diane making the long trek from Faith; I don’t think people in Sturgis realize how that just takes up the entire day up, driving in from so far. 

The relative conundrum regarding non-mandated county funding boils down to this: What do residents of Meade County believe in more: Limited Government, or Services not mandated by statute - yet nevertheless considered to be essential by many?  How do we balance our fiscal conservatism and belief in Limited Government with keeping Meade County the best place to live by providing for these many requests?  And I think that’s the key - finding the balance as best we’re able.

In 2008, the non-mandated portion of the budget was over $550,000.  In 2016, that figure is about $140,000, plus another $35,000 as a result of the Glencoe Campground settlement with the federal government for environmental violations.  That’s over $400,000 savings - per year.  But, has the Commission gone too far?  Obviously, there had to be a lot of pork in the amount spent in 2008, but were we too frugal these past few years in our effort to offset outrageous ag assessment increases by trying to lower the mill levy?  (I know, I know - we didn’t have to build Ft. Meade Way; but, although I don’t have room in this column to address it in detail, there is already significant interest in economic development out there.  And one opponent of the road was the first to use it to avoid having to truck cattle through Sturgis - before it was even legally opened.  I think in the long run, which is one of the most important functions of a deliberative body like the County Commission has to work for, the road will significantly benefit the county.)

We did approve some requests.  The fire departments requested $20,000; we allotted that amount, plus the County will again pick up the Workers’ Compensation for the firefighters, at a cost of an additional $10,920.  We also approved $11,000 to the City of Sturgis to repair creek banks damaged in Atlas, and the same amount to Tri-County Conservation toward the replacement of a pickup or other equipment.  The last two are one-time distributions from the Glencoe settlement.

Also, it was our great privilege to honor Eldon Herring as Veteran of the Month.  Mr. Herring turned 100 in February, and is just an amazing man.  Thank you again for your service, Eldon.

Well, there was a lot more stuff we talked about, but we can save that for another time. We sure do all need to be praying for rain, it’s really getting dry.

God Bless Meade County