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Hannah Hunsinger, Journal staff 

St. Thomas More's Aislinn Duffy moves toward the basket during the Cavalier Christmas Classic game against Madison on Thursday at the Civic Center.

New law sparks local rush to prepay property taxes

Today is the last day to secure a potential income-tax benefit from prepaying property taxes, and if the past few days are any indication, it could be a busy day at the Pennington County Treasurer’s Office.

Treasurer Janet Sayler estimated Thursday that visits to her office at 130 Kansas City St. in Rapid City have been three times normal levels in recent days as homeowners and business owners have rushed in to prepay property taxes that will not be due until next year.

The reason is a section of the tax-reform legislation that was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.

The relevant section of the law will impose a $10,000 cap on the amount that federal income-tax payers can deduct in 2018 for state and local income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes.

But the cap will not be imposed on 2017 income taxes. That means South Dakota taxpayers who expect to hit the new cap next year can essentially double up on this year’s deduction by prepaying their 2018 property tax bill before Jan. 1.

Sayler said local pre-payers have run the gamut from confidently knowledgeable to vaguely optimistic.

“A lot of them, I think they just heard about this and they think it’s going to help them,” Sayler said. “And some of them are coming in on the advice of their accountants.”

One of those accountants is Jennifer Konvalin, a partner and certified public accountant at Ketel Thorstenson in Rapid City.

“We’ve been talking to clients all day long yesterday and today about this issue,” she said Thursday afternoon.

Konvalin said individual circumstances determine whether a taxpayer will benefit from prepaying property taxes. Generally, though, she said the new cap’s combined applicability to sales taxes and property taxes (South Dakota does not impose a state income tax) means that anyone who owes roughly $8,000 or more in property taxes next year might want to consider prepaying those taxes. That will have to be done before the close of business today, which is the last day the local treasurer's office will be open in 2017.

The amount of potential tax savings for pre-payers is also dependent on individual circumstances. As one example, Konvalin said she helped a client who expects to save a few thousand dollars.

There are also some complications that potential pre-payers should consider.

Sayler said property tax prepayments cannot be officially posted by her office until the first business day in January, according to state law. But her office is providing receipts showing the date that prepayments were submitted. Konvalin said those receipts should be sufficient to classify the prepayments as 2017 expenses.

Another complication might confront homeowners whose property taxes are collected and paid by their mortgage lender through an escrow agreement. Konvalin said homeowners in that situation should consult their lender, because the homeowners might be able to prepay taxes directly to the county and then get a later refund from the escrow account.

Team helps survivors find hope in aftermath of suicide

It’s a brutal pain, losing someone to suicide.

That’s how Front Porch Coalition loss team member Sheena Hannah describes what survivors feel in the aftermath.

“There’s no wrong way to grieve,” said Hannah, who lost her father to suicide six years ago. “If you’re mad, you’re mad. If you’re mad, sad and devastated all in one, it’s OK.”

Hannah is part of the coalition’s team that is dispatched by local law enforcement and respond immediately to offer family and friends resources, information and comfort. The coalition is one of many organizations supported locally by the United Way of the Black Hills.

“We go out during a crisis, or it could be at the emergency room,” said Joan Muller-Lyons, office manager at the coalition. “We give immediate support.”

That includes waiting with the family if the person was an organ donor, helping do a death notification and offering emotional support.

What makes the team so effective is that members have been touched by suicide in their own personal lives, Muller-Lyons said, which means they are able to provide relatable, caring advice and support. She lost her father to suicide decades ago.

“When you lose someone, there’s a stigma,” she said.

Society has changed, however, she added.

“Back then, it was shut up and don’t talk about it,” she said. “Some cemeteries wouldn’t even allow burials. Or, some churches wouldn’t allow a funeral in the church. It was considered the unforgiveable sin. It’s extremely sensitive.”

Understanding mental illness is still difficult, she said, but support organizations like the coalition go a long way in providing the right resources for people.

Sometimes, family and friends are in shock and don’t want any help. Sometimes they will reach out to the coalition later.

“Death is never easy, but suicide is unique to other forms of loss,” she said. “Our team is excellent. They understand a specific aspect of loss that no one else does. People will open up to (us) when they won’t open up to anyone else.”

It’s also a double-edged sword, Hannah said, because the pain from their own losses is still very real for team members. “It can be trying,” she said. “You have to put yourself aside and keep your own emotions in check.”

Hannah has wondered, at times, if the work has helped her heal or has made her loss more difficult.

“There are times when I’m like, 'Is this good for me?'” she said. “But if it helps anyone, it’s worth it.”

Muller-Lyons would like to see the coalition grow their teams to include more counties in the Black Hills. Hannah lives in Belle Fourche and covers Lawrence County. More than 20 people work on the loss team, and new members just started covering the Northern Hills.

“We have the best,” she said.

Hannah said the more support for people, the better. “There’s a lot of prevention work for suicide,” she said. “But it’s not completely preventable.”

Survivors, she said, need to know they are not alone.

“They need to know people have had the same questions — ‘How could they do this to me? How could they hurt me like this?’ They’re not alone in that,” she said. “You go through the immediate shock, the funeral, and then everybody is gone, and you’re trying to pick up the pieces.”

When Hannah responds to a suicide, she is there to tell people there is hope.

“Sometimes you don’t even take it a day at a time, it’s a moment at a time,” she said. “It gets easier, but it doesn’t ever go away. But it does get easier.”

Whiteclay beer store owners appeal tax decision saying they owe thousands

LINCOLN, Neb. | The Nebraska Department of Revenue says four now-closed beer stores in Whiteclay together owe more than $600,000 in state taxes after an audit determined they underreported sales by nearly $1.7 million in a three-year period.

But the owners of Arrowhead Inn, State Line Liquor, D&S Pioneer Service and Jumping Eagle Inn have mounted a legal challenge, asking a Lincoln judge to review Tax Commissioner Tony Fulton's Nov. 22 findings, which they say were based on flawed estimates.

It's just the latest setback for the controversy-plagued stores forced to close in April after decades of serving millions of cans of beer each year to the Oglala Lakota people of South Dakota’s nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned.

This spring, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission voted 3-0 to deny the renewal of the stores' licenses following a hearing at the Capitol on whether law enforcement in Whiteclay was adequate to let beer sales continue.

That decision, hailed by activists, led to a court fight which ended in September with the Nebraska Supreme Court rejecting the store owners' bid to reopen, citing a technical flaw in their appeal.

Now to reopen, they would need to reapply for liquor licenses.

But as the issue over their licenses raged, a second, behind-the-scenes fight was brewing over taxes.

On Friday, attorney Benjamin Moore, of Rembolt Ludtke LLP, filed nine petitions for review for the individual store owners after each was issued a notice of deficiency determination earlier this year. The notices reflected they owed additional income taxes, sales and consumer use taxes, as well as a litter fee (a tax assessed to those making gross proceeds of $100,000 or more in retail sales).

In the petitions, Moore said the Department of Revenue's decisions were not supported by evidence, were contrary to law and were "arbitrary, capricious and/or unreasonable."

The dispute boils down to how the state's auditors recalculated each of the businesses' gross receipts — and therefore taxes due — for the period from August 2013 to August 2016.

According to court records, department auditors first audited the books of the individual stores, then did on-site audits in September 2016 after the owners asked for re-determinations.

In the on-site visits, they were looking for documentation to support the stores' reported sales and use tax returns. But the Liquor Control Commission had taken their z-tapes, records from their cash registers, so the owners of Arrowhead Inn, D&S Pioneer Service and Jumping Eagle Inn couldn't provide them. State Line did not use a register, according to the state's order.

Instead, auditors subpoenaed the alcohol suppliers' records of all sales to the businesses for the audit period.

Department auditors reconstructed total sales with the help of price lists from the owners. But auditors had no way of knowing how many of the six-packs, 18-packs and cases delivered to the stores had been sold as singles, and made calculations assuming the largest packs were broken down and sold by the can.

The owners took issue with the new calculations, which they said didn't reflect wholesale price increases or an accurate number of individual can sales. They argued the Department of Revenue should have gotten their z-tapes from the Liquor Control Commission.

But Fulton, the tax commissioner, said that was the petitioners' job. Last month, he affirmed the numbers, saying the owners hadn't retained the records they were required to under Nebraska law, "which made it necessary to look beyond petitioner's records to calculate total sales."

In his order, Fulton said there may have been a more precise method of determining how much was sold as single cans, "but the taxpayer did not provide information that would allow the department to formulate that more precise methodology."

In the end, he upheld the department's findings that:

• Arrowhead Inn's taxes were deficient by $244,168, including $109,639 in sales and use tax, income taxes of $101,888, plus penalties, fees and interest.

• State Line Liquor's taxes were deficient by $142,908, including income taxes of $69,615, $59,930 in sales and use tax, plus penalties and interest.

• D&S Pioneer Service's taxes were deficient by $122,260, including income taxes of $56,008, $54,580 in sales and use tax, plus penalties, fees and interest.

• Jumping Eagle Inn's taxes were deficient by $92,449, including income taxes of $41,362, $40,150 in sales and use tax, plus penalties and interest.

Together, it adds up to $607,926.

Now, a Lancaster County District Judge will review the record to see if he or she agrees.

Dangerous wind chills, snow to hit Black Hills
Rapid City could get up to 6 inches

Dangerous wind chills and up to 6 inches of snow are expected this weekend as colder air moves into the Black Hills. 

The high temperature in Rapid City today will likely remain in the single digits, while Saturday and Sunday will see even colder weather. The worst will be Sunday, when temperatures are forecast to creep all the way down to minus 19. 

The plains areas of western South Dakota could see wind chills as low as minus 45 over the weekend. Rapid City is expected to receive up to 6 inches of snow, while communities in the Northern Hills could get up to 8 inches, said Katie Pojorlie, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

City crews will be closely monitoring road conditions, said spokesman Darrell Shoemaker. With New Year's Eve falling on Sunday, more traffic is expected in the downtown area that day than normal. Shoemaker said crews will be ready to remove snow buildup to keep downtown streets safe if conditions warrant.

"Conditions can change in a few hours," he said. 

Travelers are advised to take extra precaution over the weekend. Motorists should pack additional clothes or blankets that could be used to stay warm in case they become stranded, said Brook Eide, emergency medicine physician at Rapid City Regional Hospital. 

When wind chills dip as low as minus 45, even something like a flat tire could be "devastating" if motorists aren't ready for the extreme conditions, Eide said. "Be prepared for the worst."

He also warned partygoers to be careful when consuming alcohol in the extreme cold, as it can cause the body to lose heat faster. 

For folks hunkering down for the weekend to avoid the deep freeze, fear not, for warmer weather is on the way. The first few days of the new year will see temperatures gradually climbing, with a high of 9 on Monday, and 28 on Tuesday. For the latest weather conditions in the Black Hills, visit