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Meade County Voters Reject Road TIF; Buffalo Chip Petitions for Townhood

Meade County voters have put an end to their TIF tiff with a resounding No. Voters rejected the Meade County Commission’s proposal to fund construction of a bypass road east of Sturgis with tax increment finance dollars 25.5% to 74.5%. That’s 853 Yes votes, 2,493 No votes, for a measly 21.6% voter turnout.

Supporters said the TIF funding would allow Meade County to pave this new road right away. Commissioners have said they are committed to building the Fort Meade bypass, connecting I-90 Exit 37 and the Buffalo Chip campground with or without the TIF; given last night’s vote, it just may stay in gravel longer.

The Meade County School Board, the Sturgis City Council, and the Sturgis Chamber of Commerce all opposed the TIF, as it would deprive other taxing entities of increased tax revenue in the sprawling TIF district by locking those dollars into paying off road costs.

Meade County Taxpayers for Responsible Government referred the TIF to a public vote. They celebrate their victory with a press release contending that this big nay is a rejection of the proposed road project itself and TIFs in general:

Meade County Commissioners wanted to create what is possibly the largest TIF district in the country to pay for a poorly planned road project and voters overwhelmingly rejected their plans. This vote was not just a vote on the irresponsible and misdirected TIFD; this vote is mandate against the Bypass Road and this method of financing for county general services.

The fatal flaws with the TIFD and the Bypass Road are that they were not driven by new private development and did not involve the planning for utilities and services a developer would need for new construction.  If there was a specific plan for economic growth, the developer would have had to provide specific project information before a TIFD was created and there might have been a different result.

We knew from the beginning that this issue wasn’t just about a few private landowners angry that the county wanted to bulldoze a truck bypass through their quiet rural neighborhood.  Meade County citizens were upset with the Commissioners heavy-handedness to rush the project through without considering all of the impacts and costs [Meade County Taxpayers for Responsible Government, press release, 2015.03.04].

TIF opponents may have a chance to test their mandate soon. Before yesterday’s vote was finished, Meade County Commission Alan Aker posted to Facebook that the Meade County Commission now has before it “a proposal from a developer to create a TIFD for a housing development along Elk Creek. The project would include replacing a deficient county bridge, paving about a half mile of gravel road on the county maintenance list, and paving roads internal to the subdivision.”

And for more election fun, residents around the Buffalo Chip Campground have petitioned to incorporate the Chip as a town of its own. Last Friday, the Meade County Commission approved the petition and set an election date of May 7. The campground says the proposal will promote economic development… which is likely code for “allow the Buffalo Chip bosses to collect sales tax to boost their own projects.” The City of Sturgis, which may have an eye on annexing the campground for its own sales tax purposes, may sue to block the election, contending that the dozens of residents Buffalo Chip claims to have don’t really live there and thus are not eligible to petition for townhood, let alone vote. If the petition stands, only residents of the Chip will be able to vote.


  1. leslie 2015-03-04

    years ago the dealeo w/ a new town was the free couple of liquor licenses that came with it, obviously w/ great innate value in and of themselves. don’t know state of affairs these days on the birthing of a new governmental body, god knows meade county needs more places to drink around the base of sacred Bear Butte, development ikon of the black leather rally.

  2. Craig 2015-03-04

    I believe there is some state law that doesn’t allow an area to break off if they are within a few miles of another city – and I believe Sturgis planned to fight this because they felt the campground was within this range.

    That said, I have to wonder if the Buffalo Chip’s owners know what they are setting themselves up for. A city needs to provide city services year round… not just three or four weeks a year. Wouldn’t that require road maintenance, law enforcement, fire protection, and perhaps even schools? What happens when someone builds across the road – would that be annexed in as part of Buffalo Chip or would it remain Sturgis?

    Then again if the Chip doesn’t have any real permanent residents (don’t the actual owners live out of state?) then this is a moot point. They are trying to pretend that vacant lots are real residences but I’m not buying that. That might be enough to claim South Dakota residency, but it likely isn’t enough to claim you are a resident of a community when you aren’t physically present 11 months a year.

    It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-04

    Craig, I’m keenly interested in the residency question. The city seems to be floating arguments based on the same thinking Lee Schoenbeck offered to challenge Burt Elliott’s legislative candidacy in District 3 last fall. A court challenge to the Buffalo Chip petition could drag the whole RV-voter issue to the fore as well.

    The three-mile limit is in SDCL 9-3-1.1, but it includes an exception. Here’s the full statute:

    No municipality may be incorporated if any part of such proposed municipality lies within three miles of any point on the perimeter of the corporate limits of any incorporated municipality, unless the incorporated municipality refuses or fails to annex a territory which is contiguous to said incorporated municipality, and said contiguous territory has properly petitioned said municipality to be annexed thereto, as provided by § 9-4-1. However, a municipality may be incorporated that is within three miles of an incorporated municipality if the territory to be incorporated is in a different county and has a post office prior to incorporation.

    I don’t think the Chip is contiguous to current Sturgis city limits. The Chip submitted two petitions; the first included turf clearly within the three-mile zone; the second pulled back out of range. But Sturgis last month annexed the high school, the airport, and the sewer lagoons, allegedly in response to the possibility that the someone else might try to incorporate them. I’d need to look at a map and draw some lines… as I’m sure lawyers in Meade County are doing right now.

  4. Nick Nemec 2015-03-04

    Allowing a private business to incorporate as a municipality is a big deal with many potential unusual consequences. The sales tax take of the Buffalo Chip Campground during the rally would be huge. Tax money would be used for private purposes, paving the private roadways of the campground is just the tip of the iceberg, I wonder if the mayor/owner will get a salary? Are there other jurisdictional issues since, presumably, the entire campground would not now be private property? County and state cops would be able to enter and enforce the law without a warrant, at least on the public portions of the city.

    Is there precedent for a private business incorporating as a municipality? I’m thinking Buffalo Ridge, that tourist trap/campground, a few miles west of the I-90/I-29 junction either did this or tried to do this years ago. If memory serves me right Janklow blew his top over it and had a long running feud with the owner of that place.

  5. Nick Nemec 2015-03-04

    Cory, just a suggestion on the new site. Please do not hold comments for moderation, it’ll stifle the debate and subject all of your readers to your schedule.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-04

    [Nick, I’m with you there! I prefer immediate publication of comments, and will likely switch to that shortly. Right now I have the comments set to first-time moderation (once I approve a commenter, that commenter’s subsequent posts automatically go through.) I’ll keep that moderation on for a bit (hours or days, not weeks), just to make sure the anti-spam filter is working.]

  7. oldguy 2015-03-04

    yeaaa I found it!!!!

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-04

    Glad to have you, oldguy! Are you ready to move to Buffalo Chip and run for mayor?

  9. bearcreekbat 2015-03-04

    If Buffalo Chip becomes a municipality, could it still charge people an entrance fee to come into the area? As it is now, are visitors required to pay before they can even enter the place?

  10. W R Old Guy 2015-03-04

    I believe that all legal loopholes will be explored by the attorney working for the Chip. He got Summerset incorporated by finding loopholes. The final corporate boundaries were not set until a year after the election. The boundaries were purposely drawn to bypass established subdivisions and thus those who would vote against it. Summerset stretches from exit 48 to exit 52 on I-90, but it only covers the areas that were being developed. Residents of a trailer court (who could not vote in the incorporation anyhow) were surprised to learn they were included in the city limits. The owner of the court did not even tell his wife that he agreed to be part of the city so he could hook into their sewer. She found out when her husband passed away.

  11. leslie 2015-03-04

    I thought haggs were the summerset lawyers, but assume woodward is doing the chip, or assistants, or lawyers from around sturgis like prosecutor chleborad.

    just guessing

  12. dallis 2015-03-04

    A city still has private property in its boundaries. City hall would be the only city property. Maybe the citizens could pass a law all property within the city is public. All 40 of them. I don’t know where they get 40 people out there.

  13. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-03-04

    I am wondering about the Summerset deal too. That seemed highly questionable on many levels. Won’t people be a little smarter about it this time? What government entity can close some of those Summerset loopholes?

    The City of Buffalo Chip (Just writing it looks stupid.), doesn’t seem to have a dried bison dropping to stand on.

  14. Paul Seamans 2015-03-04

    Cory’s remark about someone wanting a TIF for an Elk Creek housing development reminded me that just a couple of years ago I was talking to a long time rancher who lives along Elk Creek. He said that Elk Creek used to flow all year long, even down to where it joins the Cheyenne. New housing developments along the creek have been drilling wells and now Elk Creek only flows occassionally.

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