When Rapid City residents go to the ballot box Feb. 20, most voters will likely believe they’re deciding the fate of the city’s water rate increases.
But the nature of the vote is much murkier than the water that pours from the town's faucets.
In the past, the rates for water service were contained in city ordinance 6201, and to increase water rates the council needed to amend that ordinance. But this time around, city staff brought forward the rate increases in a different manner.
Instead of amending the rates in the existing ordinance, the rates were completely removed. The new, increased rates were then incorporated into a resolution with other various fees for city services. That resolution would raise city water rates by about 10 percent annually through 2022.
City staff has said the decision to remove the rates from the ordinance and insert the new rates into a resolution was in an effort to have one document with all city fees. Easy accessibility is important, city attorney Joel Landeen said, because an annual analysis of city fees and rates is often required to make sure the revenue generated covers the costs of providing said services.
“When you adopt rates, you understand that in most places annually you take a look at them and they are updated,” Landeen said in a Journal interview Wednesday. “So it’s not unusual, and this assertion that somehow it’s unusual for us to do that, or that it’s inappropriate, is absolutely false.”
During discussion of the matter in October, Tonchi Weaver of Citizens for Liberty opined that changing the rates through a resolution, which requires two public hearings as opposed to the four required of ordinances, was “kind of sneaky.”
Weaver spearheaded the effort to bring the rates hikes to a special election — which will cost the city about $60,000 — and she has been circulating pamphlets around the city asking residents to “Vote No!” on Feb. 20.
“People think they’re voting on the rates,” Landeen said. “[But] they’re actually voting on whether or not the ordinance moved them to resolution.”
In essence, a "yes" vote will support the council’s decision to set the water rates through a resolution and the new rates through 2022 will go into effect. A "no" vote will prevent the rates from being set in a resolution. As a result, the old rates will return to ordinance 6201 and the rates will remain at their current level, which hasn’t changed since 2013.
But as long as the council doesn’t attempt to set the increased rates in a resolution again — state law prohibits attempts at the action being referred for one year after the referral — they can increase the rates by simply amending ordinance 6201.
“They’re not voting on the rate,” Mayor Steve Allender said during his “Rapid City Progress Report” last week. “They’re voting on how the rate is structured in the resolution as opposed to a city ordinance. So if the vote is no, then that means that we won’t put the rate in a resolution. [It means] that we’ll put it in an ordinance, instead. And the people are going to be very disappointed.”
The question then is what the council will do if the rate increases are rejected. The politicized nature of the issue means any decision will be heavily scrutinized, Landeen said.
“What they can do legally and what they would do in reality are two different things,” he said.
As for how the city got into this situation, Allender and Landeen both credited past decisions by Mayor Alan Hanks and Sam Kooiker as integral pieces to puzzle.
“There’s a back story to this, and the back story goes back 30 years,” Allender said.
Water utility rate studies like the recently completed study that led to the present water rate increases were also commissioned and completed in 1998, 2003, and 2008, city spokesman Darrell Shoemaker said. But in the decade before 1998, the rates remained relatively flat. Then, during part of Hank’s tenure from 2007 to 2011, rate hikes were approved, but at lower levels than the rate study recommended.
Finally, the rates' inertia was exacerbated when, during Mayor Sam Kooiker’s term from 2011 to 2015, city staff was directed to forgo any rate studies, keeping the rates at the 2013 levels.
“You just incrementally get behind,” Landeen said of how the city ended up in its current predicament, citing the political consequences of such a rise as the likely culprit.
Weaver agreed with Landeen, in part. The timing of the rate hikes, she said, seemed to coincide with the lack of any mayoral or city council elections this summer, reducing city leadership’s concerns of the political ramifications of a hike.
But Allender said that if politics were the concern, inaction would be the result.
“We’ve got to adjust these rates,” he said. “The alternative is to keep our fingers crossed and hope we don’t have any issues with our current production, to use water production plants for decades after their predicted usable life and to just hurry up and retire before the next crew comes in and they get to deal with the issue."
Allender called that course of action irresponsible governance.
"It all comes down to this," he said. "What is the value of having clean, safe water in your homes?”
They come with slow but steady steps, or by wheelchair, walker, or sometimes on the arm of a caregiver to take a place at dining room tables at Shirley’s Adult Day Center.
They come, with anticipatory smiles, because it’s time for lunch.
Christina Tsitrian not only cooks for more than 30 clients and nearly 20 employees at the center, but she also serves the noontime repast with accompanying music, a simple a cappella tune, something like “You are my Sunshine,” said day center floor manager Jayne Thompson.
That’s part of the personal touch Shirley’s Adult Day Center is charged to provide for those placed in their care, mostly the elderly suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, physical handicaps, Parkinson’s Disease or Autism spectrum disorders.
“We are the best-kept secret in town,” said Thompson, “But we’re working hard to change that.”
The center opened at 4110 Winfield St. in south Rapid City a few months ago, taking the place of another adult day care facility operated in the same location by Western Resources for Independent Living.
Western Resources continues to offer independent living services for the elderly and disabled through offices in Rapid City, Spearfish and Pierre, but when WRIL announced in early October plans to close its adult day care centers, citing financial reasons, a group of individuals formed a limited liability corporation and began working toward taking over those services.
Shirley’s opened on Oct. 28. Another WRIL adult day center in Spearfish remains closed.
Namesake of the center is CEO Shirley Allen, who brings 35 years of experience in the disability field, including 20 years working with adult services.
Betty Bowers, a business owner, retired school administrator and long-term caregiver for her husband, serves as board president.
“Both of us have a passion for what we’re doing, the adult services,” said Bowers. “I have it from the viewpoint of a caretaker who had a husband with a traumatic brain injury. He needed significant assistance, and I needed assistance.”
The center currently serves between 30 and 35 clients (Bowers and Allen prefer to call them guests), in the former WRIL facility, now owned and leased from the neighboring Morningstar Assisted Living Center.
Nearly 30 donors, families and local businesses, chipped in with monetary or in-kind services to ease the transition, Bowers said. Volunteers are still being sought, and fundraising, including a benefit pancake supper last week, continues.
The building remains unmarked, with signage along Minnesota Street still referencing its former ownership by WRIL. A white passenger van parked in front still shows faint outlines of the former WRIL signage on the sides of the vehicle.
“We’d love a big sign, but we’re just not going to get into that big of a financial thing,” Allen said.
The emphasis for Allen and Bowers and the other 14 board members, is to establish the day center as a nonprofit. An extensive permitting process has been completed with an application for federal tax-exempt status filed and awaiting review, Bowers said.
“We’re considered private until we get that non-profit (designation),”Bowers said.
The center’s 18 full- and part-time employees include a registered nurse and licensed practical nurse. A licensed hairdresser is also available.
Services for guests include personal and hygiene care (a full handicapped-accessible and walk-in shower is available) education, memory/cognitive care, exercise and mobility, nutrition and recreation.
The center charges $17 per hour and $4.50 a meal, and 40 cents per mile transportation costs for each guest, most of whom come from Rapid City, Black Hawk and Box Elder.
The center accepts private pay, long-term care and other insurance, Medicaid, Veteran’s Administration assistance. About 60 percent of guests are veterans, Allen said.
Overnight and weekend respite care is available and a caregiver support group also meets once a month.
Most important for those coming to the center, Allen said, is the chance to socialize, and a chance for caretakers to get a break.
“We just want to be that place for the caregivers to get the relief they need,” she said.
The center can legally take 70 guests, but plans are to limit that number to 50, with a look at expansion or moving to a larger facility once that number is reached.
“The biggest thing we want to get out is there is another nonprofit taking over an existing program that helps the elderly,” Bowers said.
“We don’t want to think of this as a business as much we think of it as a home away from home. We want to be the extension of their family,” she said.
People with special needs will have their very own Night to Shine on Feb. 9.
The Night to Shine prom takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. at Bethel Assembly Church, which is co-hosting the event with First Christian Church. Guests will arrive on a red carpet and receive a warm welcome from a friendly crowd and paparazzi.
“When guests arrive, they’ll meet their ‘buddy.’ Everyone will have a special companion for the evening. It’s about dancing, having fun and celebrating them,” said Keith Culver, associate pastor at Bethel Assembly.
The royal treatment continues with each person receiving either a crown or tiara and a corsage or boutonniere. Guests will be treated to a catered dinner, hair and makeup stations, shoe shining stations, a karaoke room, prom favors and as many limousine rides as they wish to take.
Night to Shine will take place that same night at churches in 500 locations worldwide. The event is sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, an organization dedicated to celebrating people with special needs.
“It’s in our vision for our church to reach out to those with special needs in the community. Sometimes they are forgotten people. We want to celebrate them, encourage them and bless them,” said Culver. “We thought Night to Shine would be a great stepping stone to minister to those folks, so we applied with the Tim Tebow Foundation to hold an event for the first time here in Rapid City.”
While prom guests enjoy the dance floor, their caregivers can unwind in the respite room, where they will have a catered meal and chair massages provided by Headlines Academy.
Night to Shine volunteer Christina Hayen of Rapid City said, “I am fortunate to be working with the respite room, which will focus on loving on and pampering parents, guardians and caregivers as they enjoy a relaxing space that includes support and prayer. Night to Shine is such an amazing opportunity to share God’s love and bless our community with special needs.”
Culver said there will be a variety of folks at the event.
“Some are high-functioning, and some need a lot of help, but they all want to come and have a good time. It’s about loving them and making them feel special.”
Leading up to Night to Shine, the local All Cinderellas Go to Prom organization gave away 40 prom dresses for attendees.
“I heard that one young lady put on her dress, looked in the mirror and started crying. She didn’t want to take it off,” said Culver.
In an effort to continue making people with special needs a priority, Culver said Bethel Assembly is starting a special-needs friendly church service. The service — which starts Feb. 18 at 11:30 a.m. — will focus on different lighting, music and seating options.
Night to Shine is free and open to people ages 14 and older. Limited space is available, so registration is required by visiting bethel.ag/night-to-shine/. More information on Night to Shine can be found at timtebowfoundation.org.
Races for the U.S. House and the governor's office in South Dakota have intensified since the beginning of 2018. Following is a summary of some recent developments in those races, along with other campaign news from the past week.
U.S. House race
Tapio drug-test bill advances: State Sen. Neal Tapio, R-Watertown, who is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. House, on Thursday touted a legislative committee’s passage of his legislation, Senate Bill 168, that would require each member of the Legislature to undergo a drug test within two weeks of being sworn into office and within two weeks of the end of the legislative session.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill 4-3, and it now goes to the Senate floor. A similar bill in the House was rejected at the committee level.
“South Dakota is in dire need of a wider conversation about the impact of drug usage on our people, schools and businesses,” Tapio said in a written statement.
Democrats criticize Tapio: Following Tapio’s official candidacy announcement last Sunday, which had long been anticipated, the South Dakota Democratic Party issued a statement Monday from its executive director, Sam Parkinson.
“In a Republican Legislative caucus filled with out-of-touch, right-wing extremists, Sen. Tapio stands out as one of the most out-of-touch, right-wing, and extreme members of the State Legislature,” the statement said, in part.
Hendrickson goes Libertarian, schedules West River events: George Hendrickson, of Sioux Falls, filed a statement of candidacy Jan. 18 with the Federal Election Commission in which he identified himself as an independent candidate for U.S. House. But on Thursday, he issued a news release saying he plans to run as a Libertarian.
Hendrickson described himself as a 47-year-old former police officer and small business owner.
“People are starting to realize that the two-party system of cronyism and power brokering is what has gotten us into our current mess," Hendrickson said in a written statement.
Hendrickson’s news release said he will conduct town-hall meetings from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, at the Belle Fourche Area Community Center and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, at a location to be determined in Rapid City.
Krebs endorsement: On Monday, Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, who is seeking the Republican U.S. House nomination, touted her endorsement by the national pro-life group known as the Susan B. Anthony List.
“We are excited to endorse Shantel Krebs, who has a solid pro-life record in the state legislature and as Secretary of State,” said a written statement from former congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, SBA List’s vice president of government affairs.
Bjorkman hits the road: Retired circuit court judge Tim Bjorkman, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. House, has been traversing the state meeting people at community gathering spots, according to his Facebook page. On Wednesday, he was at the Philip Pit Stop, the Sunset Grill in Kadoka and BJ’s in New Underwood; on Tuesday, he was at Express 2 in Woonsocket, Springs Inn Cafe in Wessington Springs, and a South Dakota credit-union legislative social and dinner in Pierre.
Johnson reacts to State of Union: Dusty Johnson, a former public utilities commissioner who is seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. House, recorded a Tuesday night Facebook video expressing his thoughts about President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
Johnson, who is an executive at the Vantage Point Solutions telecommunications firm in Mitchell, said he particularly liked Trump’s comments on infrastructure. “I’m an infrastructure expert," Johnson said. "Whether I’ve been in the private sector or the public sector, I’ve focused on energy infrastructure, telecommunications infrastructure, roads, bridges — those are things we have to have to power an economy. Those are part of the core responsibilities of government.”
Noem signs no-tax pledge, calls for constitutional carry: Republican governor candidate and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge on Thursday, which is a promise to oppose all tax increases.
"South Dakota has long been a low-tax state,” Noem said in a written statement. “We are just one of seven states without an income tax. We need to keep it that way. But we also need to fight proposed increases to the state property tax and the state sales tax."
On Wednesday, Noem called for passage of so-called “constitutional carry” legislation in South Dakota.
The concept, which has taken the form of a bill under consideration by the state Legislature, would allow South Dakotans to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Such a bill was passed by the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
Noem said she is not endorsing any specific bill but supports the policy in principle and, if elected governor, would work to get a constitutional-carry bill passed and signed into law.
Jackley to open Sioux Falls office: State Attorney General Marty Jackley, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, scheduled the grand opening of his Sioux Falls campaign office for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9, at 3508 W. 41st St., Sioux Falls.
Sutton legislation: State Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, recently proposed legislation that would create a state council on early learning. He also proposed legislation that would require state government to keep financial records for at least 10 years. That legislation is in response to the GEAR-UP scandal in which $1.4 million went missing from an educational cooperative.
Candidates are circulating nominating petitions to earn spots on the primary and general election ballots. Here are some of the candidates who have already earned places on the ballot in Black Hills-area races, according to the South Dakota Secretary of State's office.
Legislature: Rep. Sam Marty, R-Prairie City, for re-election in District 28B; Amanda Scott, R-Rapid City, for the state House in District 33; state Rep. Taffy Howard, R-Rapid City, for re-election in District 33; state Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, for re-election in District 31; state Rep. Charles Turbiville, R-Deadwood, for re-election in District 31; state Sen. Bob Ewing, R-Spearfish, for re-election in District 31.
Oglala Lakota County: Rex D. Conroy Sr., D-Batesland, for sheriff; Joe Herman, D-Pine Ridge, for sheriff.
Fall River County: W. Scott Davis, R-Hot Springs, for sheriff; Sue Ganje, R-Hot Springs, for auditor.
Meade County: Ron Merwin, R-Piedmont, for sheriff.
Custer County: Terri J. Cornelison, R-Custer, for auditor; Craig Hindle, R-Pringle, for commissioner-at-large; Philip Lampert, R-Custer, for commissioner-at-large; Heath Lowry, R-Custer, for commissioner-at-large; James Lintz, R-Hermosa, for commissioner-at-large.
Lawrence County: Richard Sleep, R-Spearfish, for commissioner-at-large; Randall Rosenau, R-Spearfish, for commissioner-at-large; Sheree L. Green, R-Spearfish, for register of deeds; Brian Dean, R-Spearfish, for sheriff; Brenda McGruder, R-Lead, for auditor.