South Dakota county going broke; wants more tax money

2013-08-04T16:00:00Z South Dakota county going broke; wants more tax moneyThe Associated Press The Associated Press
August 04, 2013 4:00 pm  • 

MARTIN | A county in southwestern South Dakota is about to go broke.

Public safety costs are skyrocketing in Bennett County, and property taxes aren't enough to keep the 101-year-old county afloat.

County Commission Chairman Rolf Kraft said the county is pinning its hopes on a request to raise $350,000 by increasing property taxes beyond that allowed by law.

Without the so-called opt-out, Kraft said, the county will spend all its reserves by 2015. At that point it will go bankrupt, and there is a real fear Bennett County will cease to exist, he said.

The county's financial woes are exacerbated because of the county's high percentage of tax-exempt tribal trust land. The northwestern section of the county lies within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

The 2010 U.S. Census lists the county's population at 3,431. Kraft said only one in four people pay property tax in the county.

Like many counties in the state, Bennett County is up against the property-tax freeze. Sixteen years ago, the Legislature froze county property taxes and limited annual increases to 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

The 2010 U.S. census lists the county's population as 3,431. Only one in four pays property tax, the county's lone source of revenue other than grants, Kraft said.

"We have 858 taxpayers in the county," Kraft said.

One-fourth of Bennett County is Native American trust land.

"It's tax exempt," Kraft said. "In our case, 45 percent of our population lives on that land. They receive services, but they don't contribute to the tax base."

Bennett County Auditor Susan Williams said of the county's total 760,960 acres, 190,259 acres are tax-exempt trust land. An additional 16,555 acres comprise the LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge, she said. The federal government contributes payments in lieu of taxes to the county for the wildlife refuge. But these are less than half what the land would contribute if it paid property tax, she said.

"We've been trying to solve that problem for 20 years," said Dale McDonnell, a former Bennett County commissioner and former chairman of the state commissioners' organization. "Nobody listens to us. We're such a small group."

This year, Bennett County collected $2.5 million in property tax. Of that, $972,700 went to the school district, $143,600 to the city of Martin and $1.395 million to the county. The county's total budget is $1.4 million, according to Kraft. Of that, he said, $700,000 is tied up in public safety expenses.

Three years ago, the county averaged seven people per day in jail. Bennett County averages 25 people per day in jail at present, he said.

"We have a higher crime rate per capita than Sioux Falls does," Kraft said.

He ties much of the crime increase to widespread unemployment in Bennett County and drug and alcohol abuse.

Compounding problems associated with the cost of crime is the fact Bennett County has to send its prisoners to other counties because its jail closed about five years ago. Adults go to the 132-bed Winner Combined Law Enforcement Center for $50 per day plus transportation to get them there. Juveniles are housed in Rapid City's Western South Dakota Juvenile Services Center for $225 per day.

"Our jail budget is gone already for this year," Kraft said. "Last year, we overran our budget by $150,000, and we're right around there again."

Bennett County already has eliminated cost-of-living raises for employees. It slashed another $40,000 from the budget by eliminating temporary employees.

"You run out of money, what do you do?" Kraft asked.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(26) Comments

  1. Deklan
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    Deklan - August 12, 2013 9:13 am
    You didn't mention the U.S. as part of what you consider is "political rhetoric."

    The U.S. and Detroit were used as examples of government overspending.

    The Bennett County budget questions still apply: How much of Bennett County’s $1.395 million went to wages? How much is going towards health insurance and other benefits? How much is going out for travel?

  2. morningstar
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    morningstar - August 11, 2013 2:09 pm
    It has virtually nothing to do with "Detroit". That's political rhetoric pure and simple. Many other SD counties are in a similar situation. The world has changed. Rural populations have declined. Technology has and continues to change things dramatically. There is no need for a county organization with that small a population. It is feasible to reduce the number of counties to perhaps 1/2 to 1/4 that now exist. Those decisions fall on the shoulders of rural conservative decision-makers.They don't want to bite the bullet and make those decisions. Can't blame Detroit or anyone else. Just do it.
  3. nine11evo
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    nine11evo - August 06, 2013 7:06 pm
    They should just abandon government services and go private. That way when some one needs an ambulance or fire truck they would just pay for the service. If they can't pay, tough luck. Crime rates would go down due to population outflow and death and boom problem solved. Get rid of the weeds and the flowers will grow taller.
  4. Observer
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    Observer - August 06, 2013 6:31 am
    It was sarcasm,
  5. Deklan
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    Deklan - August 05, 2013 5:10 pm
    I didn’t say the sky was falling, but it is starting to rain...

    Instead of suggesting people “pony up or move," please explain which parts of my post is wrong.

    Do you disagree the U.S. government is broke? Is the part-time job rate incorrect?
    Do you believe the taxpayers are a source of infinite amount of money for the levels of government? Do you disagree the levels of government need to change how they spend taxpayer funds?

    Detroit has the highest property taxes among the 50 largest cities in the U.S, it also has corporate and personal incomes taxes, which may have may led, in part, to individuals leaving the city.

    The official unemployment rate in Detroit is currently 18.6%.

    Its benefit system (pension plans) is unsustainable.

    The political leadership has led to Detroit’s fiscal troubles, i.e. deficit spending, which has led to the city owing roughly $19 billion to creditors. (As for partisanship, keep in mind from 01/62 to the present, the city has had Democrat mayors.)

    Additionally, the rain is spreading across the U.S., there have been 36 municipal bankruptcy filings, some dismissed, since ’10.
  6. ZAR
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    ZAR - August 05, 2013 3:01 pm
    C'mon neighbor, your the sky is falling mantra is getting old.
    Detroit was forced into bankruptcy due to losing 300k tax paying citizens due to outsourcing, and an ex CEO for a Gov. that pressed for a bankruptcy Nothing more nothing less.
    Take a look at the progressive politics in the neighboring state of Minnesota, Pawlenty with his regressive tax scheme left them in a huge deficit, with the Dems in control of the house, senate and Governors mansion they have a balanced the budget this year, something the Neocons couldn't seem to do!
  7. Roger Cornelius
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    Roger Cornelius - August 05, 2013 2:49 pm

    Wrong and simplistic solution. Just who is going to give the land back, much of it is owned by non-Indian taxpayers? Are they going to cede their land because you think it is a solution?

    Cut off all services? Is that legally possible? Does it not matter to you are actually suggesting people be forced to live somewhere thy may not wish to?

    Problem not solved. Tribal and tribal member lands are not taxable, period. Try changing that.
  8. Observer
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    Observer - August 05, 2013 1:42 pm
    Give it to them, cut off any benefits they would receive living on it and make them pay the taxes. Problem solved.
  9. Deklan
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    Deklan - August 05, 2013 1:19 pm
    The debt and yearly deficit illustrate the U.S. is broke.

    Detroit is filing bankruptcy.

    Many of the jobs added to the U.S. economy were part-time and / or low-paying. Part-time work has made up 77% of this year’s job growth.

    Money is tightening for many in the private-sector and the levels of government cannot consider the taxpayers as an infinite source of income.

    The nation, the states, the counties, and municipalities need to change how they spend tax-payer funds.

    The questions which should be asked are how much of Bennett County’s $1.395 million went to wages, how much is going towards health insurance and other benefits, and how much is going out for travel?
  10. Roger Cornelius
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    Roger Cornelius - August 05, 2013 11:52 am
    The land in question was"deeded" to the Oglala Sioux Tribe and individual tribal members by the United States government's Indian Allotment Act.

    All arguments about previous ownership of the land are legally null and void
  11. Roger Cornelius
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    Roger Cornelius - August 05, 2013 11:03 am
    This article suggests that Native American residents don't pay their fair share of taxes, which is an absolute falsehood

    While trust land is not taxable, there are an abundance of taxes and fees that Native American residents. do pay. Here are a few:

    State and federal gasoline taxes
    State sales tax
    Driver's license fees
    Automobile registration fees

    For those that live in Bennett County, poverty exist among non-Native as well as Natives at an alarming rate which as we know brings on alarming crime rates.

    I would suggest that this a management problem, or rather a mismanagement problem.

    The irony here is that non-Native residents of Bennett County have always been critical of the tribe for begging money, well look who's begging now!
  12. ZAR
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    ZAR - August 05, 2013 10:18 am
    All your silly bickering aside folks, if people want to live in a county that is under the protection of the fire,police, and ambulance services, and their county is to broke to provide for it, then they either pony up to keep the services, or move.
  13. B-Rock
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    B-Rock - August 05, 2013 9:58 am
    "I would suggest giving this county back to the people who it originally belong too"

    "Native people never owned land"
  14. B-Rock
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    B-Rock - August 05, 2013 9:56 am
    Are you referring to the greedy people that receive services but do not pay property taxes?
  15. Openureyes
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    Openureyes - August 05, 2013 7:52 am

    If you can honestly say that some people do not need greed or money to exist than this article wouldn't need to even be written. but the bottom line is there are people who feel the need to not contribute to society other than using the hard working peoples efforts. This article exists out of pure greed and money by a group of people who do not feel the need to contribute.

    What happens to your land Magaska when the taxpayers government money runs out? Johnny Depp going to save you? then what when his money runs out? whose going to save your land then?
  16. Magaska
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    Magaska - August 05, 2013 7:44 am
    @ Erudite...Difference Native people never owned land like your people did we may have occupied ares as with other tribes but no one ever owned the your own research it was your government who wrote the treaties it was your government that broke the land part of the treaties..but still to this day honor other parts...dont blame us blame your government..
  17. Scott Peterson
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    Scott Peterson - August 05, 2013 7:36 am
    Bennet County is one of the poorest counties in the US. Asking those who live there to pay more is not realistic. The county is too small, too poor, and has a tax base that is too small. The county needs to be merged with an adjoining county.
  18. Buck
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    Buck - August 05, 2013 6:49 am
    Who was on the land before the Lakota took it from them, Arikara was is? I think they should have it back.
  19. Erudite
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    Erudite - August 05, 2013 5:54 am
    Magaska doesn't know much about history. The land wasn't territory of the Sioux for "centuries". They actually were here a little over 75 years, a short period of time compared to the time the US has controlled the land. Before the Sioux it was Crow and so on. Should the US give it back to the Crow, or the people who claimed it before them? Or the people before them?The sioux got title to the land the same way the US did- by force of arms. The only difference was that the US actually paid damages for it as a result of a court case. Haave the Sioux paid the Crows?
  20. Magaska
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    Magaska - August 04, 2013 10:54 pm
    That land has been there for thousands of years before your greed and money to exsist! Theres not much there anyway..It dont need anthing but to be left alone...and if it wasent for greedy people we woudent be almost out of money...
  21. Openureyes
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    Openureyes - August 04, 2013 9:36 pm
    Yea that will solve the problem.... Lets take away the 800 or so people paying taxes out of the equation and then the land will be completely owned outright and debt free.....

    Don't you get it? we are OUT OF MONEY....... Who is going to pay for it once we "Give it back" ? Oh yeah it will be the rest of the state and federal taxpayers to keep the county up.. The reason the county is in debt is because there is to many people using and not enough people giving. There will be nothing there to use once the taxpayers are gone... Is that hard to understand?
  22. Magaska
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    Magaska - August 04, 2013 9:27 pm
    Thats all you got Penobscot?.....Why not? technically by Federal lay and based on treaty rights..Its still in anythings possible...Gee some people....have a great day.
    James Swan
  23. Magaska
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    Magaska - August 04, 2013 7:57 pm
    This land was for centuries traditional territory of the Oglala Lakota, also known as the Sioux. First included in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, most of the county was removed from the reservation for 26 years after a 1910 act of the US Congress which "authorized and directed the Secretary of Interior to sell and dispose of all that portion of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, in the State of South Dakota, lying and being in Bennett County and described as follows: "...except for such portions therof as have been or may be hereafter allotted to Indians or otherwise reserved, and except lands classified as timber lands: Provided,..." The lands were allotted and Bennett County was opened for settlement. The event of "hereafter allot[ing]" lands occurred in the early 1900s.[4] The boundaries of the future county were determined by the South Dakota state legislature in 1909. To the east is the Rosebud Indian Reservation, occupied by Sicangu Oyate, also known the Upper Brulé Sioux Nation and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST), a branch of the Lakota people. By Secretarial Order dated June 10, 1936, the undisposed of lands in Bennett County opened for settlement under the 1910 Act were "restored to tribal ownership" and were "added to and made a part of the existing reservation..." [4]

    The land was part of Fall River County until the European-American organization of Bennett County in 1912. That year on April 27, its first board of county commissioners was elected. In November 1912, residents chose the town of Martin as the county seat.

    The United States participated only as amicus before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cook v. Parkinson, 525 F.2d 120 (8th Cir. 1975), a criminal case that discussed Bennett County as no longer being part of the Reservation. The United States is not bound by that decision because it did not participate in the litigation. The United States was a party in United States v. Bennett County, 394 F.2d 8 (8th Cir. 1968), in which the State of South Dakota had to obtain permission from the Department of Interior in order to fix roads or condemn property in Bennett County, consistent with the property's reservation status
  24. Penobscot
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    Penobscot - August 04, 2013 7:57 pm
    Yup, pretty simple. And we're all quite sure that's going to happen. ;) Way to put forth a realistic solution.
  25. Magaska
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    Magaska - August 04, 2013 5:38 pm
    I would suggest giving this county back to the people who it originally belong too...It is right in the middle of both Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations...Under the 1886 treaty it belongs to us...So give it back to us.....Simple as that
  26. Openureyes
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    Openureyes - August 04, 2013 4:49 pm
    This is America in a nutshell people.... wake up......... to much going out not enough coming in, enjoy it while it lasts. This is the exact problem our country as a whole will face, you are seeing the result first hand at the heart of the problem. Either ignore the problem and face these consequences or step up and take action.

    One by one weaker areas affected by abuse of the system are falling.... whose next???
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