Notes from Commissioner Galen Niederwerder

 Commissioner Niederwerder

Commissioner Niederwerder

The Meade County Commission met in regular session Wednesday, January 24th.  The main issue discussed was the 2019 Budget.  Normally, we don’t begin discussions on budget until May or June, but it became apparent last year that changes need to be made after we discovered there weren’t going to be enough dollars in the 2018 Budget to rebuild the south end of New Underwood Road- due to a $1.2 million increase in Personnel Costs over a two-year period.  So I called a Special Meeting in November with department heads to brainstorm ideas to cut spending in other areas, in an attempt to free up money for road-building projects.  That meeting produced a list of more than 74 ideas to do just that, most of them really, really good.  At this week’s meeting, several department heads reported on ways those ideas could be implemented in their department.  There’s a lot more work to do, but progress was made. 

Speaking of New Underwood Road, we discussed setting load limits of 100,000 pounds on it.  This number came from my discussions with Meade County residents concerned about damage from overloaded trucks; a trucking buddy of mine who runs that road a lot thought that limit would catch out-of-county trucks damaging the road without affecting local farmers, ranchers, and truckers.  However, Highway Superintendent Lincoln Shuck advised us that since load limits are based on pounds per axle, even many locals run trucks with enough axles that it would put them over 100,000 pounds gross weight.  So, again, we’re without an answer; I don’t know if there is one - other than the state take over the highway, which we’re still working on.

Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie showed up to update County Auditor Lisa Schieffer on the Community Center’s unavailability for the primary election on June 5th.  While there, he was questioned on the progress of obtaining enough petition signatures to hold a vote on the City’s proposal to form Sturgis area Fire and Ambulance Districts.  Which reminds me:  the City has included some information in the literature put out to the public that, from the Commissioners perspective, contains some inaccurate statements.  This has created misperceptions in the public that 1) the county hasn’t paid its bills owed to the City, and 2) the commission is trying to force a tax down rural residents’ throats.

On the City’s Ambulance & Fire District Proposal Information Page (available on their website), in regard to the fire department, it is stated that “For several years, the City has requested Meade County participate in total costs.  The County has steadfastly opposed contributions toward the SVFD beyond a minimal annual gift that is made to all Fire Departments throughout Meade County, as well as the provision of workers’ compensation coverage.”  Well, since 2013, the Sturgis Fire Department has made only one request for $35,000- I believe- to the Commission for a contribution; that was in 2013 toward the purchase of a new fire truck.  Like the Commission does for all non-mandated requests, we required a look at their financials. The department refused, so their request was rejected.

The document also asserts “While discussing the need for support from beyond the City of Sturgis for fire protection in Meade County, the Commissioners have suggested that a Fire Protection District be established that encompasses the current response area.” (Emphasis mine.)  Actually, the City came before the Commission last April to request that the County form a county-wide district - for both fire and ambulance.  Now, Commissioner Bob Heidgerken and I have attended many meetings of the Rural Firefighters Association over the past five years, and we’ve heard from people like Bob Young, Walt Haley, Larry Gravatt, Rick Lee and many others that the people out in the county absolutely do not want a fire taxing district.  We explained that to the City, and absolutely refused to initiate the process.  But we did suggest that if they want to form their own district, we’d be glad to assist them - as we would for any group of people who appear before us to form a road or sanitary or fire district in their community.  The way it works is that the people who want to form the district circulate petitions to bring it to a vote; if they’re successful in procuring enough signatures, the County is required by law to set the election.

In regard to the Ambulance issue, the City’s November 6th resolution states “WHEREAS, since the current City-County Ambulance Service contract approved in 2013, Meade County owes approximately $300,000 for past due expenses to the City of Sturgis….”  I questioned at the time why the  County would enter into this type of agreement with Sturgis, when it has no agreements with Faith, Enning, or Piedmont. I learned that a contract of one kind or another had been in place since as far back as 1988.  The 2013 agreement does stipulate that the County and City will share in any revenue shortfalls, and also that either party can dissolve the agreement and have the assets split.  The reason I, and I believe the entire commission, supported it at the time was that it also stipulated that the City would not bill the County for transporting prisoners from the jail; with the thought that if the City ever did invoice the County, we would pay that year’s bill - and then dissolve the contract.  The County has never received an invoice, and the Commission has been content to let that sleeping dog lie.  The County has no wish to cash out the assets, and believe the City has no interest in pursuing the matter, either.  The Sheriff, with the County’s authorization, entered into a separate agreement with the City in 2015 to provide prisoner transport and medication dispensing at the jail, at a cost to the County of $70,000 per year.

Bottom line:  The County is neutral in the formation of these districts - it’s up to the City and the rural residents to decide.  Right now, the County has contributed $20,000 each year for the past several years to the Firefighters Association, and cover workers’ compensation for 381 fire and ambulance volunteers in the county.  We’re willing to do as much as you want us to do - if you want county-wide protection or a local community district, and the taxes that go with it, bring us petitions.  The Auditor’s office can help with verifying signatures on petitions.  If you want to continue volunteer fundraising to support your local fire and ambulance, that’s fine, too.  It comes down to:  What do you want, and how do you want to pay for it?  

Our Veteran of the Month is Susan Bass.  Susan enlisted in the Air Force in 1969, and was assigned to the unit in Japan that transported the very critical Vietnam War patients to the Isolation Intensive Care Unit.  She honorably separated from the USAF in 1978 as a captain.  Thank you again for your service, Susan.

God Bless Meade County

Respectfully,

Galen Niederwerder