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Company settles half of $100K water bill after being called out by mayor

Mayor Steve Allender might want to consider a second career as a bill collector. 

On Thursday, after the mayor released a letter to the media calling out a local property management company for having nearly $100,000 in late water bills, a company representative settled about half of the balance.

"I don't care what it was that made them pay, I am just glad they are starting to pay it back," Allender said.

Countryside Property Management is now working on a payment plan with the city to pay the outstanding balance. The company has 98 rental properties and manages mobile homes in Star Village, Countryside Mobile Home Park on East St. Patrick Street and the Marquette Mobile Home Park at Star Village, as well as a few other properties. 

In Allender's letter, which was addressed to city council members, he said the Countryside Property Management Inc. had dissolved its corporation with the state of South Dakota but still had a combined delinquent water bill of $97,679. The oldest unpaid bills date back three to four months, city spokesman Darrell Shoemaker said. 

"On the advice of Public Works Director Dale Tech, I've decided we should not turn off water for the 98 users at this point," Allender wrote. The water at the property management office located at Star Village, however, has been cut off, "in an attempt to get their attention," Allender said.

Cynthia Akers is the listed director of Countryside Property Management. She did not return a phone call seeking comment. 

The mayor's letter said Countryside Property Management is also the owner of the former Boston's Restaurant & Sports Bar on East Disk Drive, which recently closed. The mayor said that property has a delinquent water bill of $5,000.

"On the surface, this appears to be a failing property management company which has likely collected rent to include water usage from 98 rental customers, then failed to pay the city for this service," Allender said. "The 98 renters are not to blame in this instance, but if we cannot get compliance on this delinquent water bill, it may result in shutting off service to all properties."

In March 2016, the city faced similar dilemma with the owner of the Idlewild Inn apartments in downtown. The landlord, Gerald Henning of Milwaukie, Ore., failed to pay $6,850 in outstanding water bills dating back to December 2015. The water was shut off, but Allender reversed the decision five days later after he became concerned with the living conditions of the residents. 

Earlier this year, Henning was sent to collections for unpaid water and sewer bills in the amount of $3,556, Shoemaker said. 

"The Idlewild property was sold and is currently managed by Maxworth LLC of Newcastle, Wyo.," he wrote in an email. "There have been no issues with payment for water and sewer since the change in ownership."

Water bills issued by the city sometimes go unpaid and as a result a resident may lose service, but having an outstanding bill this large is rare, Allender said.  

Typically, decisions to shut off residential water services are handled by the water department, but in cases like this — where a large number of households are involved — Allender gets a recommendation from the Public Works director before making a final decision. 

Debate over major road project in Spearfish

SPEARFISH | A mixture of public approval and opposition greeted Spearfish city planners and consultants trying to assemble a proposal for the rebuilding of more than a mile of Jackson Boulevard, a major traffic artery in this Northern Black Hills community of 11,000 residents.

A 1.1-mile stretch of Jackson Boulevard from Interstate 90 to University Street is set to be rebuilt, with the first of two phases of the project starting in the fall of 2018. Current projections set the overall cost of the project set for completion in 2019, and including scenic amenities such as decorative street lamps, corner nodes and landscaping, at $7.68 million.

The planning process began last year. One of the project's overall goals is to ease traffic flow on the busy street while enhancing safety for motorists and pedestrians.

Another priority is to add bicycle lanes and boost the scenic appeal of the corridor, making Jackson Boulevard “welcoming and inviting” as well as a safe street.

Among the concepts being considered are a reduction of the current five-lane configuration — two lanes in each direction with a center turning lane — to a three-lane design with center medians, wide isolated turn lanes and protected bike lanes along much of the route.

Planners said this “road diet” concept actually improves traffic flow in spite of the cut in the number of lanes. Pedestrians would encounter fewer lines of moving cars as they cross the street as well.

Intersection nodes and center medians limiting the ability for left turns in the middle of block also have the general effect of slowing the overall flow of vehicles, with fewer demands for those vehicles to slow or stop.

The number of cars traversing Jackson Boulevard daily, currently less than 10,000, makes the street a good candidate for the three-lane configuration, said Kyle Mathis, Spearfish city engineer.

“I think it would be a good fit for the community,” he said.

Also being considered for the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Ames Street is a one-lane traffic circle, or roundabout, which planners say would meter traffic without the need for lighted traffic signals or stop signs.

Drivers enter the intersection, yielding to vehicles already in the circle, and continuing counter-clockwise, exit at their desired street.

Jackson Boulevard bends at the intersection with Ames Street, making that part of the route suitable for a roundabout. The current four-lane with a turn lane configuration allows cars to hide behind each other, said Chris Rolling, a consulting engineer with Olsson Associates of Omaha, Neb.

“We want to improve the sight lines at that intersection,” he said.

The roundabout, if built, would be one of only a few in the state. A roundabout is used for traffic control inside Ellsworth Air Force Base. Others have been built or are being planned in Sioux Falls, Watertown, Brookings and Pierre.

But serious doubts about the concept still exists for many residents, who filled the Spearfish city council chambers to standing room only for the first two public meetings on the project Thursday.

One of those is Sharon Allard, who lives on North 10th Street in north Spearfish. She said the three-lane design would further hinder motorists trying make a left turn trying to access East Jackson Boulevard to get to I-90.

“Sometimes traffic is backed up a whole block in front of my house,” she said.

Mathis said public meetings so far have yielded good public feedback for the concept which city officials and planners hope to have complete by the middle of next year.

Some parts of the project, replacing and upgrading city water mains and sanitary and storm sewers, must be done, but the suggested changes in street design and aesthetic improvements are open for public suggestions, he said.

“We want to get as much public input on that aspect as possible, and as you can see, there’s a lot of opinions,” he said.

“We’re going to try to get a conglomeration of those opinions and get the best project we can,” he said.

(Editor's Note: The above story has been changed to clarify the use of traffic circles, or roundabouts, elsewhere in the state.)

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Edgemont student attacked with utility knife

A high school student in Edgemont is suspended and faces potential expulsion after cutting another student in the neck with a utility knife, according to authorities.

The incident happened Monday, said Dave Cortney, superintendent of the Edgemont School District. The students were using utility knives in an art class.

The wounded student was transported to a hospital and was treated and released, Cortney said. That student has since returned to school.

The student who wielded the utility knife has been suspended. Cortney said the district's policies dictate that a suspension lasts for 10 days, during which time an expulsion is considered. He said the consideration will happen at the school board’s Monday meeting. Expulsions last for one year, Cortney said.

Immediately after the incident, school district personnel enforced a lockdown to keep all other students inside other rooms. An ambulance crew and the Fall River County sheriff responded within minutes.

“It was an unfortunate situation,” Cortney said, “but I was really pleased with how everything was handled and how everybody responded.”

Cortney said he has discussed the use of utility knives in art class with his staff, and he indicated that the district is likely to continue using the knives.

"We'll continue to make sure that everybody's aware that it's still a dangerous item, but in the field of art, it's a part of that field sometimes," Cortney said.

Fall River County Sheriff Robert Evans said the incident is under investigation but declined to release further details, citing the juvenile status of the students involved.

Journal file photo 

Spearfish head coach Erik Skoglund instructs his team during the Region 8A championship game against Red Cloud in 2012 at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

South Dakota MADD founder honored at vigil


Lila Doud’s life was changed forever on Dec. 8, 1983, the night her daughter Lori was hit by a drunken driver. The collision prompted Doud to spend 33 years volunteering as the director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Pennington County.

Doud is now retiring from her director’s role. On Thursday night, during MADD’s annual candlelight vigil, law enforcement officials and the national president of MADD honored Doud for her years of service.

Doud got involved with MADD because she felt compelled to fight back against drunken driving. She still vividly recalls the night her daughter was injured.

“I got the phone call: ‘She’s not dead, but we need you here,’” Doud said. “It was winter, it was cold. I went to the emergency room where she was, and then I took her home with me to watch her for signs of shock.”

Lori recovered but, decades later, still suffers side effects. Glass embedded in her body from the accident periodically works its way through her skin and, as recently as a few weeks ago, Doud said, her daughter was picking glass out of her face.

At the time of Lori’s accident, South Dakota lacked a MADD chapter, so Doud got involved in starting one. Doud served as its director since the chapter formed in 1984. “I thought if nobody’s here to do something, I’ve got to do something,” Doud said.

Over the past three decades, Doud has become “a force,” according to MADD’s national president, Colleen Sheehey-Church. South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and Sheehey-Church both honored Doud at Thursday’s vigil and presented gifts of appreciation for her service.

Jackley praised Doud for being a strong partner with law enforcement in the fight against drunken and impaired driving. During her MADD tenure, Doud has worked on legislation to get better laws in place. She has ridden with police officers on saturation patrols, visited DUI checkpoints and local courts, all to get a better understanding of how local and state law enforcement deal with drunken drivers.

“As we continue to move forward, you know law enforcement needs (MADD). You’re an organization that makes a difference,” Jackley said.

Doud has been “a lifeline and a shoulder to cry on,” Sheehey-Church said, noting that no one seeks MADD’s help or support until a tragedy occurs.

“I want to thank you for the constant support of our mission. You gave courage to many and encouraged many more,” Sheehey-Church said. “With fighters like you on our side, I hope one day there are no more victims.”

MADD’s ongoing mission is to raise awareness about drinking and driving, Doud said. Locally, MADD’s most visible campaign is the “Think” signs placed at sites where people have been killed by drunken drivers. Signs are placed at the request of victims’ families, Doud said.

“The awareness we’ve raised is one of the big things (we accomplished). People know now if they’re going to go out and drink, they’d better not be driving,” Doud said. “We don’t tell people not to drink, but if they are going to drink, for God’s sake don’t get in the car and intend to drive.”

Doud also issued a warning to sober drivers. “Watch out for the cars around you, especially at night, but we have drunk drivers on the roads 24 hours a day,” she said.

MADD’s candlelight vigil also honored local and county law enforcement. This year, Deputy Anthony White of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, Officer Brandon Johnson of the Rapid City Police Department and Trooper Brandon Hansen of the South Dakota Highway Patrol were honored for their work to arrest drunken drivers. Rick McPherson, who developed the Freshman Impact awareness program, also was honored.

To conclude the vigil, the names of South Dakotans killed by drunken or impaired drivers in 2016 were read aloud. Last year, 55 people died and 589 more were injured.

New director takes reins

Connie Hobbs is the new incoming director of MADD Pennington County. Like Doud, personal tragedy prompted her involvement with MADD. She was delivering valentines with her two young daughters in 1994 when her car was struck by a drunken driver coming from a nearby bar. Hobbs’ younger daughter, Rachel, then 5, survived, but Hobbs’ oldest daughter, Lesley, 9, was in a coma for a week before she died from her injuries.

Hobbs wants to expand MADD Pennington County to become MADD South Dakota, she said. She also plans to revive and expand events such as the MADD Dash 5K Run/Walk that raise awareness and funds for MADD. The money will help with victims’ assistance, education and promotion of MADD’s mission, Hobbs said.

“I want to get MADD’s name back out there and be known across the whole state,” Hobbs said. “People are going to drink; all we ask is that they don’t drink and drive. Think before you drink. Designate a driver. … That’s what we want — no more victims.”