DaugaardDennis (copy)


“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” This old saying is a good description of how we have approached managing state government in the last seven years.

Before us come so many issues — deferred maintenance, highways, criminal justice, teacher pay — that can’t be solved in one year. But a start must be made.

When I was running for governor, I promised to analyze state-owned property and right-size or sell unneeded assets. In the 1800s, when South Dakota became a state, we housed people with mental or physical problems in large state-owned institutions, often for life. We built big state hospital campuses in Yankton, Redfield and Custer. Sadly, many people were often sent away and forgotten by their families.

We now know that in most cases it is better to serve citizens in their homes and communities, often through community-based providers. But the state has continued to own these old campuses. Some buildings were still being used, but others had fallen into disrepair after being vacant for decades.

It’s irresponsible to let vacant buildings fall in on themselves and irresponsible to spend taxes maintaining unneeded property. It’s better to return these properties to the tax rolls.

We began to address this in Yankton at the Human Services Center. We demolished several dilapidated buildings, sold land that was no longer needed, and negotiated a lease-purchase with the local Historical Society to preserve the Mead Building.

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We have sold surplus property in Redfield, Custer County and Minnehaha County. We sold STAR Academy to a local entrepreneur and the Plankinton training school campus to the company that was leasing and operating it. And the Board of Regents is exploring options to better use the School for the Deaf campus in Sioux Falls.

This philosophy extends to current state buildings as well. We have set a goal of appropriating 2 percent of value in maintenance and repair of state buildings, including university buildings. This year, I’m proposing to add state-owned technical institute buildings as well.

On our farm, when I was a boy, we always had a big garden, and we ordered plants and seeds by mail from Gurney’s in Yankton. With every order, Gurney’s would always enclose a “bonus” item, as a gift. One year, our bonus was a hackberry bare-root seedling, only a foot long. My dad and I planted that seedling, and now, 50 years later, it’s strong and tall.

Five decades from now, when a new generation of South Dakotans is at the helm, I have no doubt they will benefit from the trees we are planting today. We are sowing seeds which will leave our state better than we found it.

Dennis Daugaard is the governor of South Dakota.

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