Reconsiders golf course irrigation, approves big Boulder Falls change order

HOT SPRINGS -- Before approving bumping the cost of Boulder Falls street construction up by $122,000 – to pave 1,300 feet of Mockingbird Lane, not in the original plan – and reconsidering spending $101,000 on nine irrigation mains for the front nine holes of Southern Hills golf course, the city council heard three complaints about law enforcement from unhappy residents at the Sept. 5 city council meeting.

Complaints

Former law enforcement officer Jeff Shannon, an 11 –year city resident, wanted a plan on how the city was going to handle the rash of burglaries that has taken place this summer. Shannon said there have been more than 40 burglaries in the last three months, including 24 vehicle break-ins over a single weekend.

Shannon said that after the initial run of burglaries, when city police officers were assigned overtime and focused on the 12 midnight shift, the burglaries were far less frequent. Now, however, only one officer is assigned to the midnight shift, Shannon said, and the burglaries have ramped up. Shannon also said he had been told by others that midnight duty officers were sitting in the back of the department offices watching Netflix, instead of out patrolling.

“We pay taxes but we’re not being protected,” Shannon said. “When we’re asleep are we safe? Do officers have to file mandatory mileage log? I know law enforcement can’t be everywhere, but this is a severe problem.”

“You (city council and Mayor George Kotti) and the Hot Springs Police Department are not being proactive enough,” Shannon said, “you need to skip the business as usual approach and come up with a pro-active, aggressive plan to get rid of the burglars.”

Shannon said a person complaining shouldn’t do so without having some solutions. His included:

•Focusing policing efforts on the 12 midnight shift, since that is when most of the burglaries have taken place, and including a supervisor on this shift.

•Utilizing the reserve police officers to help patrol evenings.

•A neighborhood watch program or citizen patrol effort.

Kotti answered Shannon’s complaints:

“I appreciate your concern and passion,” Kotti told Shannon, “and I wish I had an answer. But we don’t live in Mayberry any more. People will take advantage of our situation (thinking it is Mayberry) and steal.”

Kotti said that of the 24 cars burglarized in late August, 22 were unlocked.

“Citizens do have a responsibility to lock,” Kotti continued, noting he’d discussed the burglaries with city Chief of Police Mike Close. “Crime is everywhere, and this is an organized ring – they’re in Rapid City, Chadron. The police department is doing the best they can. They’ve investigated, found a suspect and made an arrest. All the stolen vehicles ended up on the rez, and a coordinated probe is having trouble getting access to suspects because the suspects are on the rez.”

Kotti said he was open to a neighborhood watch effort, “under the right circumstances,” but that citizen patrols were out, especially armed ones, because “accidents” could happen.

Kotti said that the police were trying “covert measures” to nab the burglars, but that the city would not “micro-manage” the police department, because there were efforts being made that he couldn’t talk about.

Kotti also urged Shannon – anyone concerned – to attend the city’s safety committee meetings and share their ideas. The committee meets the third Wednesday of every month at City Hall.

Council’s safety committee liaison, Alderman Bob Nelson, said he would “like to live in Mayberry, too” but this wasn’t a reality any more.

Nelson saw no purpose in shaming anyone, if they were not given an opportunity to correct improper behaviors first. Nelson also urged Shannon to tell those who claim to know that police officers were watching television instead of patrolling to visit with him.

“I don’t deal in hearsay,” Nelson said, “but if someone comes to me and say ‘I witnessed this’ I want to know about it.”

Scott Holmes, who lives on Fresno Ave., wondered why the city “couldn’t afford” a drug dog that would help reduce crime. He wondered about accountability, saying he paid taxes and didn’t like the idea of the city making decisions about things like this behind closed doors. “That is no place for city government,” he told council.

Nelson reminded Holmes that the city council didn’t nix the drug dog, it never came up for a vote, but the idea was rescinded by the police department because of “lack of support” for this in the community, according to a document asking for the withdrawl.

Craig Romey, a North 4th Street resident, was unhappy that a recent high speed pursuit took a Hot Springs police officer beyond the city limits, out to Highway 79, and down that road. Romey believed city officers should be limited to the city and not go chasing those who flee it, but radio ahead to the State Patrol or other officers to apprehend fleeing suspects.

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Kotti rebuked Romey’s complaint noting that state law allows officers in pursuit to chase suspects as needed; also, that the officer involved did radio ahead for help. He reiterated this idea later in the meeting noting that safe, logical pursuits were part of policing.

“Hot Springs is not known as an unsafe town,” he said, “and I don’t like this rash of crime. But all concerned should lock their homes and cars and report any suspicious activity. We’re doing the best we can with limited resources.”

Golf course irrigation

Nelson told council he’d reconsidered the idea of spending $101,000 for nine front nine golf course irrigation mains – $37,000 more than budgeted for in 2017 – after talking to Kotti and others about this following the council’s last meeting, where this was nixed. At that time, Nelson said he’d be fine with this in 2018, but not for 2017, because the overage was not budgeted for in 2017.

He reconsidered this stance after receiving a promise from Kotti that $40,000 from the 2018 budget could come over into the 2017 budget for the golf course work, and that this amount would be returned to the 2018 budget via funds generated by golf course use in 2018.

Alderman Georgia Holmes noted that the city had saved for three years in order to install better irrigation at the golf course and didn’t anticipate the $37,000 overage from original estimates of the work.

Council, on two motions by Aldermen Carolann Schwarzenbach and Holmes, voted unanimously to do two things: (a) reconsider the vote that nixed doing this work from August, and (b) to award the $101,000 bid.

Boulder Falls

The Boulder Falls street construction project change order, for nearly $123,000 to add 1,300 lineal feet of Mockingbird Lane to the effort, also received a unanimous approval from council.

In other business, the council:

•Approved paying up to $500 for travel expenses to interview a new city administrator. This action came after an executive session to discuss this.

•Approved using Bradeen Real Estate & Auctions to sell surplus city properties on South Garden St., the abandoned sandstone water reservoir on the corner of Doran St. and Happy Hollow Rd., and other city properties. City department heads will review any potential properties. Bradeen will receive between 6 and 7 percent of the proceeds from this for helping the city sell these properties, while offering the city $2,000 worth of advertising to help sell the land.

• Approved the transfer of $460,000 to cover the airport’s parallel taxiway construction project, which, according to Finance Officer Misty Summers Walton, is basically a transfer of money from a grant into city funds.

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