Get set for a tax vote in Lake County! The petition drive to refer a new 0.9-mill property tax levy for roads collected enough signatures to put the measure to a countywide vote. Petitioner Steven Kant tells me that he submitted 564 signatures to the courthouse yesterday. County auditor Bobbi Janke rejected 31, leaving 533 valid. 507 was enough to put the levy on the ballot.
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.
Has the Bosworth precedent kept a municipal referendum off the ballot in Watertown?
Glacial Lakes Energy in Watertown wants to build a four-track rail loop that will allow them to load more train cars without backing trains up and blocking traffic on Highway 212 to the north.
According to data presented at the March 7 meeting of the Watertown City Council, since the construction of the South Bypass (from Highway 212 at Sharp Auto and the Prairie Stop southeast to Broadway, Glacial Lakes, and Highway 81) in 2012, daily traffic along that 2,500-foot stretch of South Broadway has decreased 44%, from 2,033 vehicles to 1,139.
The City Council thought vacating South Broadway was a great idea and approved it March 7. Jon Dagel, the owner of the Little River City c-store at South Broadway and 212, former city alderman Mike Davis, and others* did not. Obviously not wanting to lose business from Glacial Lakes workers taking Broadway to and from work, Dagel, Davis, and friends took out a petition and collected 1,004 signatures to put the road vacation to a vote. City Finance Officer Rochelle Ebbers validated the necessary 703 signatures last week, and Watertown’s off to the polls—
—Not so fast, said Glacial Lakes Energy. CEO Jim Seurer came to Monday’s council meeting and demanded that the city reject the petition based on irregularities uncovered in its circulation. Specifically, Seurer alleged that circulators did not witness the signatures on their sheets. Mayor Steve Thorson said law enforcement officers had confirmed that allegation, and the council declared the petition invalid, thus forestalling any referendum vote.
The Watertown City Council has taken a very different approach to this petition challenge from Secretary of State Jason Gant’s approach to my challenge of Annette Bosworth’s nominating petition in 2014. I made the same argument that Seurer did: circulators did not witness signatures, therefore those signatures and all signatures gathered by those circulators were invalid. Secretary Gant rejected my challenge, saying his office had no authority to go beyond a facial review of the petition and that a challenge based on the evidence I presented had to be resolved in court.
If Secretary Gant had taken the initiative shown by the Watertown City Council, Annette Bosworth would never have made the 2014 primary ballot. If Secretary Krebs adopts the Watertown stance with respect to my pending challenge of Lisa Furlong’s petition, the fake 18% rate cap won’t make the ballot.
The Watertown City Council is right: oaths matter. We have a duty to protect the integrity of petitions and elections. As much as I love initiative and referendum, if people don’t do petitions right, their measures should not make the ballot.
However, there is a statutory argument that the city, just like Secretary Gant, really does lack the authority to reject the South Broadway petition. Rules 05:02:08:00 and 05:02:08:00.01 lays out the requirements for accepting petitions and counting signatures. None of them specify that the office accepting petitions should investigate circulators for violating their circulators oath. That was Gant’s argument in 2014. More importantly, SDCL 9-20-4 appears to say that once the city finance officer has validated a referendum petition, “The governing body shall submit the petition to a vote of the voters….” Shall submit.
The Watertown City Council’s action this week runs counter to Secretary Gant’s (in)action on the Bosworth petition violations in 2014. The Bosworth trial (and her hubby Chad Haber’s plea bargain) established that muffing the circulator’s oath can result in criminal charges. The press surrounding Bosworth’s sensational trial may have motivated Seurer and the council to take the position they have, but the Bosworth trial did not provide clear legal precedent for rejecting a petition based on felonious circulator activity. If Dagel, Davis, and their fellow circulators go to court, Watertown’s rejection of this road referendum could provide such a precedent.
Correction 12:08 CDT: A Watertown neighbor corrects me: Jon Dagel owns Little River City; Mike Davis is a former city alderman. I originally misread KXLG’s report and listed Davis as the c-store owner.
So Duane Riedel and John Thune walk into a bar. Duane Riedel, the former chairman of the Brown County Republican Party, says, “Dagnabit, If things need to be done in South Dakota will do it. We don’t need to expect government to do it all.” The senior Senator from South Dakota says “Cheers!” clinks his glass with Duane… then rushes off to the nearest microphone to take credit for bringing $133 million more in federal road dollars to South Dakota.
The bill tackles the nation’s deteriorated highways and infrastructure. As for South Dakota, Thune says the legislation will provide eight million dollars a year to a new freight funding program. The Senator says one of the biggest problems for farmers and producers in the state is getting their product to the market.
“Agriculture drives our economy. As agriculture goes so does South Dakota’s economy and that’s why putting policies in place that enable and create the right conditions for agricultures to prosper,” Thune said [Leland Steva, “Thune Talks About New Highway Bill,” KELO-TV, 2015.12.02].
U.S. senators from the Dakotas say a highway bill that Congress is poised to pass this week restores $3 billion in cuts to crop insurance made in the budget agreement completed in October, and also helps some agricultural fuel haulers.
Senator Thune may be getting us a road bill, but he and his colleagues couldn’t muster up the courage to craft a long-term funding solution. Instead, they are relying on one-time money:
In the current deal, Congress still couldn’t agree to a long-term plan for paying for infrastructure. It left federal fuel taxes untouched at 1993 levels (18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline), even though the per-gallon fees don’t keep up with inflation and have generated less money as vehicles improve their fuel efficiency. But this time Congress found money to boost funding for several years. The cash comes from selling oil from the Strategic Reserve, raiding reserves held by the Federal Reserves and cutting bank dividends from the Fed [Daniel C. Vock, “A Decade in the Making, Congress Strikes a Deal on Transportation Funding“].
Roads and crop insurance are important to John Thune, but apparently not important enough to define sustainable funding sources.
I should head down to the bar with Duane Riedel. With pork-taculous Republican leaders like John Thune and Mike Rounds, Duane Riedel must be feeling pretty poorly about his Grand Old Party.
That sounds strangely like concluding that lower voter turnout signals confidence in democracy. Generally, lack of participation signals a lack of confidence in the process, a belief that participating won’t really make a difference.
DOT Secretary Darin Bergquist recognizes one reason South Dakotans may not think the DOT meeting process is worth their efforts:
State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist said more people tended to come in the past when there was more money available for new work. He said DOT has been in a preservation mode for the past decade.
The absence of citizen voices in government processes should never be taken as a good sign. Rather than complacently assuming everything is fine, the DOT should work harder to engage citizens and identify their concerns.
While it was agreed upon that a bypass wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, there were two main problems: not discouraging travelers from passing through Yankton and funding.
“It’s not magic money out there. We would have to watch that tax dollar as much as we watch the county’s tax dollars,” said commission member Donna Freng. “We were just encouraging motorcyclists to come through here.”
Commission member Debra Bondenstedt also mentioned the shortage of concrete tractors in the county to complete the job in a timely manner.
“I’m having a hard time pushing for spending $20 million when we need to fix bridges and roads in our county,” Freng added. “My issue is, we may be able to eliminate some traffic, plus, we’ve got a million visitors out at the lake. I really don’t want them to bypass Yankton” [Reilly Biel, “County Commission Bypasses Bypass,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2015.08.11].
Hmm… if the concern is losing traffic from the lake, I’d suggest that folks headed for Lewis & Clark from the east would likely not take a bypass around town and instead would stick with the straight shot on Highway 50, right into the center of Yankton, and take 52 straight to the lake. And motorcyclists would probably enjoy the ride through scenic Yankton all the more if the trucks weren’t crowding them on Fourth Street. The folks most likely to take the bypass are the folks who are looking to speed through town anyway and who thus make in-town driving riskier for everyone else. And if you build a bypass around the northeast side of town, someone will build a truck stop to take advantage of that traffic anyway.
Yankton, a northeast bypass would be a net plus for the community… just like a good south bypass for Highway 12 would Sixth Avenue South in Aberdeen a safer drive for everyone.
With just a day to spare, Congress approved a stopgap measure to fund the federal highway program, sending President Barack Obama the legislation to avert a Friday shutdown of transportation projects nationwide.
The $8 billion bill will keep federal projects on track for the next three months, but the temporary nature of the fix creates a new crisis point in fall, as Congress has been unable to agree on a long-term solution [Lisa Mascaro, “Congress Approves Yet Another Short-Term highway Funding Bill,” Tribune News Service via Governing, 2015.07.31].
But stopgap highway bills and other crumbs are what we get when we elect a Senator and a Republican Party who don’t believe in governing and only want to keep their seats from Democrats who really can get things done.
Scotland mover and shaker Frank Kloucek is rallying his neighbors to attend a Department of Transportation meeting on Monday, August 3, in Tyndall. The main topic will be resurfacing on Highway 50 along the stretch including Avon, Tyndall, and Tabor, plus the reduction of five intersections from four lanes to two lanes plus a turning lane.
Kloucek also encourages interested area residents to bring their thoughts about building a Highway 50 bypass around Yankton to the Tyndall meeting. Kloucek says the DOT counts 18,500 vehicles a day coming through town on Broadway/81 and 10,000 moving east-west daily on the 4th Avenue stretch of 50, including a thousand trucks. Building a bypass around the northeast corner of Yankton would improve public safety, reduce delays for freight, smooth the traffic flow in town, and reduce long-term road repair costs. (Interesting last point: do two roads splitting traffic require less maintenance than one road carrying all the traffic?)
Doesn’t Highway 50 just beg for a bypass around the north and east side of Yankton?
Frank Kloucek thinks so. The former Scotland legislator submitted the following written testimony at the regional South Dakota Transportation Improvement Plan meeting in Sioux Falls last week:
In the past two months excellent editorials have been written by Randy Gleich, Leo Cwach and Ruth Ann Dickman in the Yankton Press and Dakotan, concerning the need for a truck bypass around Yankton. I agree whole heartily with their comments. It is time to put the word “we” back into the Yankton vocabulary to help truckers cope with the ongoing traffic issues in Yankton. It is time to help farmers when they are busy hauling grain and livestock to Stockmens Livestock Auction, Yankton Livestock Auction, Cimpls [American Foods Group] and hauling grain, fertilizer, feed and other products to and from Yankton and other destinations. It is time to help delivery, service and other trucks by providing a bypass to avoid the congestion on US Hwy 81 and Broadway. A bypass would help alleviate truck traffic on 4th street going to and from the Nu Star pipeline loading terminal. It would reduce the possibility of dangerous accidents with highly flammable petroleum products in the heart of downtown Yankton.
A bypass would also prevent the state’s expensive plan to expand Fourth Street (Hwy 50) to five-lanes. That project will make the roadway more dangerous for pedestrians, bicyclists and local traffic in historic downtown Yankton. It’s ironic that even as the city is spending great resources to create a plaza, walking paths and parks on the south side of the downtown area, citizens are being forced to accept a five-lane truck corridor two blocks away.
Such a bypass will help alleviate wear and tear on Yankton’s road system and extend road life, reduce repair costs etc for years to come. Aberdeen, Sioux Falls Mitchell Rapid City and many other towns Yankton wants to emulate, have such bypasses. Common sense dictates that such a bypass should be built soon for the benefit of Yankton and the surrounding area.
In the 1950s my grandfather was promised there would be a Yankton bypass “someday”. In the 1960s 70s and 80s my father was also made the same promise. In the 90s until present I was also made that promise. That day is before us.
With the huge tax increases passed by this years legislature totaling approximately 185 million dollars in license fees wheel taxes and property taxes for roads and bridges the time is right for such a project. Updating existing roads around Yankton for a bypass is a real possibility.
Yankton has not had a comprehensive traffic study since 2001. This is greatly needed and I believe will clearly show the need for such a bypass.
The time has come to do the right thing for Yankton and the surrounding area. Lets make a good faith effort to put the truck bypass on the 5 year STIP plan to benefit everyone for years to come [Frank Kloucek, written testimony, regional STIP meeting, Sioux Falls, SD, 2015.07.14].