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Citizens for Liberty group criticizes arena issue

On Feb. 26, a special Rapid City Council meeting will be held for the council to vote on what path they believe will create the brightest future for Rushmore Plaza Civic Center and Barnett Arena.

But at Monday night’s council meeting, the impending decision nonetheless took center stage.

At the meeting’s start, a group of local citizens, many of them Citizens for Liberty members, clamored that the city is again wasting time and money on an issue, whether to renovate or rebuild Barnett Arena, which was decided three years ago. Addressing city infrastructure, affordable housing and poverty are better options for the funds, they said.

In a March 2015 referendum, 60 percent of Rapid City voters rejected the proposal for an estimated $340 to $420 million replacement and expansion — including principal and interest — of Barnett Arena.

Monday night’s discussion came as the council considered authorizing the city to enter into an agreement with Dougherty & Co. for assistance in issuing the bonds necessary to fund either the renovate or rebuild option. Dougherty & Co. was also used as an adviser for bond issuance during the last consideration of Barnett Arena’s future in 2015. The council approved the agreement, 9-1, with Alderman John Roberts voting in opposition.

City staff’s retort to the concerned citizens’ charges was that they’re simply doing their due diligence ahead of the Feb. 26 meeting. After the council decides which option it supports on Feb. 26, it will then consider, at the same meeting, a resolution for the issuance of certificates of participation or sales tax revenue bonds to fund the project.

Estimates are that $182 million would be required to build a new arena while up to $28.3 million would be necessary for renovations. Both figures include principal and interest.

City finance director Pauline Sumption said projections of the cost of the bonding issuance were important to have ready for the council before they decided on either option.

“We want to have the best information possible to get out to the public and to get to you guys as well so you guys can make an informed decision on the 26th of February,” Sumption said at Monday’s meeting.

City attorney Joel Landeen said that without Dougherty & Co.’s assistance, that information wouldn’t be available.

“We need the financial information,” he said. “That’s crucial for you to decide when you approve whatever option you approve. We need their expertise to be able to put that together.”

Sumption and Landeen both said the assistance would also help the city choose the best financing options and type(s) of bonds to utilize and that a decision on Feb. 26 on the resolution would ensure the city could hold a possible special election on the matter — if the council’s decision is referred — on the same date as the primary elections in June, saving taxpayers money by avoiding a separate election.

Dougherty & Co. representative and former Rapid City attorney Ray Woodsend said they would assist the city in ensuring maximum flexibility in the bond issuance given the volatility of financial markets.

As part of the agreement, the city will pay Dougherty a one-time fee of $15,000 plus 50 cents per $1,000 of bonds issued. The fee is due regardless of whether bonds are eventually issued and sold. Further, if multiple issuances of bonds are necessary and any subsequent issue is sold 30 or more days after the previous issuance, the fee shall be the greater of either $10,000 or $1 per $1,000 of bonds issued up to $25 million plus 50 cents per $1,000 bonds issued in excess of $25 million.

The city also still owes Dougherty $25,000 from the last consideration of the arena’s future. That fee will be paid regardless, per the agreement.

When Alderman Steve Laurenti asked if there would be any issue in referring the council’s decision on the bonding issuance resolution, Landeen assured him that the process was identical to the 2014/15 process which ended with a referendum.

Per state law, the council’s resolution decision on bond issuance on Feb. 26 can be referred, but the petition must be signed and submitted to the city by March 20, and the signatures — 5 percent of registered voters in Rapid City, or about 2,300 signatures— must be certified by the city on March 26.

House restored to 1880s glory

Rumor has it that sometime in the early 20th century, gambling debts caused the owner of the Valentine McGillycuddy home at 727 South St. to split the lot into three parcels for sale.

Fast forward 100 years and another gamble has brought about a more positive change to the home of McGillycuddy, a former Rapid City mayor who played a prominent role in the history of the Black Hills.

Since 2011, Historic Rapid City, a local historic preservation nonprofit organization, has been working to restore the McGillycuddy home to its original form and beauty when it was first constructed in 1888. And with the second story exterior now complete, it appears as though the work is nearly done.

That is until you step inside.

A patchwork of plywood lines the floor, wall frames sit exposed and unfinished, and wiring and plumbing components jut out from ceilings and floorboards.

But to Fred Thurston, a Historic Rapid City board member and contributing architect for the project, things are starting to come together. In two years, Thurston said, he expects the restoration to be complete. In the next few months, the interior of the newly constructed second floor — with the original floorboards intact — should be finished.

The front porch and exterior design in the stick style from the Victorian era — characterized by linear overlay board strips and prominent trussing and beams — are nearly done and, as Thurston points out, located where it was back in 1888 when McGillycuddy and his first wife, Fanny, moved in.

“What’s out there now is actually where it originally was,” said Thurston, noting that minor changes were needed like adding a few more steps to the entranceway as Mount Rushmore Road sits at a lower elevation today than in the 1880s.

As for the work, Thurston said he’s secured commitments from area contractors to cover about 80 percent of the work on the second floor, 60 percent on the first floor, and 20 percent for the building’s east-facing rear, which will require the construction of a handicap accessible entrance, elevator and bathroom.

“Almost everything has been done through donations,” Thurston said, noting most have been in form of materials and labor, like the $37,000 worth of windows donated by Warren Window & Supply.

Still, help is still needed for the finishing touches. At 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the Hotel Alex Johnson, a “Valentine Dance” will be hosted by Historic Rapid City to raise awareness, and funds, for the rest of the project. Thurston, though, said it’s more a celebration than a fundraiser.

“This is a birthday party,” he said, noting that McGillycuddy was born on Valentine’s Day. “This isn’t about what we’re doing here. It’s about Valentine McGillycuddy and what he did."

The former Rapid City mayor also served as president of the School of Mines & Technology, was South Dakota's first surgeon general and the first white man to summit Black Elk Peak in 1875, where his remains are still buried today.

"We want to celebrate his birthday party and at the same time, if we can make a few bucks to be able to continue the work, that’s absolutely wonderful," Thurston said.

Lawmakers weigh whether to change how voters modify laws

PIERRE | South Dakota lawmakers will consider more than 20 measures that could alter how voters consider policy changes via the ballot.

The proposals range from modifying font size to barring voters from bringing constitutional amendments to the ballot, the Argus Leader reported.

Opponents called the measures an unprecedented attack on the direct democracy process a year after legislators blocked a campaign finance and ethics measure approved by voters. Republican lawmakers said voters were "hoodwinked" by a Massachusetts group that bankrolled the campaign.

Republican Rep. Mark Mickelson and others then began a campaign to block foreign influence on state laws. Mickelson collected signatures to bring the issue before voters.

A task force met over the summer and brought forth eight bills to change the initiative and referendum process. Some of measures would require disclosing cost estimates for ballot proposals or would change how those who bring proposals forward work with the Legislative Research Council.

Legislators also introduced proposals when they reconvened earlier this year, including geographic requirements for signature gatherers or requiring lawmakers to sign off on constitutional amendments prior to referral. One measure proposed banning campaigns from paying petition circulators.

"What I think we're seeing now is an unprecedented attack on the initiated measure process," said Doug Kronaizl, a direct democracy advocate. Kronaizl said he's concerned that the large amount of proposals to consider will allow some to pass through without citizen input.

Senate Majority Leader Blake Curd disagreed.

"I don't think that just because people bring things up to talk about them means that it rises to the level of an attack or a threat," Curd said.

Some have expressed concern that raising the threshold for passing amendments at the ballot could prove unfair to future voters.

"You essentially are going to have a situation where the voters of today are deciding for the voters of the future and are holding them to a higher standard than what folks have been held to for a long long time in South Dakota," said Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton.

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Couple found dead near I-190 bridge, hypothermia suspected

Two homeless Rapid City persons found dead by the Interstate 190 bridge at Exit 1C on Sunday are suspected of having died from the cold.

City police identified them as Ernie Evans, 58, and Connie Red Nest, 54, who were in a romantic relationship.

Evans was found lying on his back under the bridge. Red Nest was seen lying against a tree west of the bridge, according to a police department release. Officers were called to the area around 10:15 a.m. Sunday after a passerby saw Evans' body.

Investigators say the bodies show no signs of trauma or foul play.

The deaths appear to be from hypothermia, but autopsies will be conducted Wednesday to ascertain the causes of death, said Pennington County Sheriff's Office sergeant and deputy coroner Ed Schulz.

Sunday posted a high of 11 degrees and a low of minus 6, the fourth coldest temperature in the city this winter, according to the National Weather Service. The average low in January is 16 degrees.

New Year’s Day has so far seen the lowest temperature at 18 below zero, followed by Jan. 16 at minus 13 and Jan. 15 at minus 7.

This has been an unseasonably cold — and lethal — winter for Rapid City’s homeless population.

On Christmas morning, 69-year-old Alan Jack was found dead on the ground in the 200 block of E. St. Andrew Street. Acquaintances said he frequented homeless shelters. Jack died from hypothermia due to exposure, said Schulz of the Sheriff’s Office.

On Jan. 23, Alton Pumpkinseed was found dead under the bridge in the area of Cambell and East St. James streets, where he was believed to have been living for some time.

Police spokesman Brendyn Medina said Pumpkinseed, 44, died of “natural causes,” or an illness, though he was also exposed to the cold.

In response to Jack’s death, One Rapid City, a local organization dedicated to tackling community issues, held a meeting Jan. 4 to try and come up with solutions to the lack of a local emergency shelter.

In the couple of weeks that followed, pop-up emergency shelters opened their doors on different nights, including Canyon Lake United Methodist Church on Jan. 12 and First Presbyterian Church on Jan. 15.

The Rapid City Police Department said it's working with Mayor Steve Allender's office toward long-term solutions for improving the safety of Rapid City's homeless population.

Meanwhile, the police department is asking members of the community to call 394-4131 if they see people who could be at risk of overexposure to the cold. Police can help them find a safe and warm place to stay, whether at the home of a relative or friend, the local homeless shelter or the detox center.