My old home folks in Lake County are up to some democracy. My friend Steven Kant is helping circulate a petition to refer Lake County’s newly approved road and bridge tax levy to a vote.
After passing on the state’s 2015 road tax increase for two years, the Lake County Commission finally decided to take advantage of the new optional levy to try catching up with its deteriorating roads. The commission originally discussed a 0.4-mill levy—40 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value—but on July 6, the commission approved a 0.9-mill levy—90 cents per $1,000, or $90 extra on a property valued at $100,000, the maximum levy Lake County can impose under the 2015 law. According to the Madison Daily Leader, that levy would raise $1.35 million, enough to “resurface at least 10 miles of the county’s 220 miles of paved roads every year.”
Commissioner Aaron Johnson was the lone vote against the levy. An avid cyclist, Johnson recognizes the poor condition of Lake County roads and prefers to train on Minnehaha and McCook county roads. He opposes using property tax to pay for roads that property owners may not use in proportion to their contributions:
To illustrate why he objects to a property tax, Johnson gave the example of a neighbor who lives in Sioux Falls and drives to Lake County once a week to check on her land. For a piece of land like his neighbor’s, Johnson estimated the new levy would add at least $400 to $500 to her tax bill.
“Her Subaru [is] not doing nearly the damage that her custom farmer is doing…to the roads…Just because you are a property owner doesn’t mean that you are using the roads,” Johnson said [Dave Askins, “County Commissioners Reflect on Road Repair Funding,” Madison Daily Leader, 2017.07.18].
I note that Johnson is getting smooth training in Minnehaha and McCook counties on roads he’s not paying anything for, and that that smooth country asphalt is paid for by a lot of homeowners and car buyers in Sioux Falls who never drive lovely, quiet 248th from Colton to Island Lake. When that’s the lemon taxing mechanism the state grants, that’s what county’s have to squeeze to get their lemonade.
But Steven Kant tells me the new levy will raise his taxes on Lake Madison 7.7%, and he says nuts to that. He says about a dozen people are carrying petition sheets around the county, seeking 507 voter signatures by August 7. SDCL 7-18A-15 says a county referral petition needs signatures 5% of the county’s registered voters as of the last general election, and Lake County’s November 2016 count was 10,127. (The August 1 count is 10,382, 5% of which is 520, so this time, be glad statute uses the older count!)
Whether this tax levy makes the ballot and is rejected by voters or not, Lake County residents will feel some pain in the backsides, either a pinch in the pocketbook or bruises on their bums as they bump along those battered back roads.