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Geoff Preston / Geoff Preston, Journal staff 

Rapid City Stevens' Emily Sobczak spikes the ball during practice Tuesday at Carold Heier Gymnasium. 

City panel votes to hike numerous fees

Whether parking in a Rapid City lot, riding in a city ambulance, or laying a loved one to rest in a city cemetery, it’s going to cost you. Next year, it could cost even more.

At the city’s Legal and Finance Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, the council members recommended approving changes to a resolution that addresses most city fees. Raising the fees for parking permits, ambulance rides, graves and landfill waste drop-offs are all proposed in the resolution. Further, a $2,500 application fee for each tax increment financing district (TIF) is also proposed, as is a $250 application fee for property owners looking to be annexed into city limits.

The fee hikes will be considered by the Rapid City Council at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall. The proposed increases come after city staff and Mayor Steve Allender reviewed and proposed updates to the fee structure to ensure the city receives compensation for its services equal to the staff time put into each service. For new fee proposals like the TIF and annexation fees, Community Development Director Ken Young said he'd have a more difficult time justifying why there weren't fees previously than why the city is now trying to create or increase them.

"The rationale for not having a fee, I think, was what was absent," Young said after Wednesday's meeting. "We're just trying to justify the level of effort that staff puts into these applications as they come forward. Matching the same level of fee that we have on some of the others is what we did."

Young said when compared to other similarly-sized communities, Rapid City's fees are actually quite low.

"We're probably a lot lower fee wise," he said. "A lot of those fees are lower than what most communities our size are charging."

Young added that the city still intends to bring forward the building permit fee hikes that were shot down during the city's budget hearings this fall. But while they wait for that move, the city hopes to stay up to date with its other myriad fees to account for the work each service requires, while also reaching out to the community to justify the rate hikes.

"We're just trying to bring up a little level of equity on how we're charging fees and such," he said.

In other action, the committee recommended:

Giving permission to the Rapid City Fire Department to apply for a $676,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that would help fund the replacement of highly combustible roofing, siding and decking materials on participating homeowner properties to a more fire-resistant material. Homes located primarily in the city’s southwest quadrant are especially susceptible to wildfire damage, especially just south and west of Corral Drive Elementary School. Per grant requirements, homeowners would match 25 percent of the cost of the work, up to $169,000.

Deer Mountain’s future takes shape
New owners are cleaning up the Deer Mountain/Mystic Miner ski area, but ultimately plan to resell it

LEAD | Legalities forced a change of ownership process to take more than a year, but the new owners of the Deer Mountain/Mystic Miner resort plan to clean up the ski area — financially and physically — before putting the sprawling Northern Hills property up for sale.

"We’re getting our arms around the project," said N. William “Bill” Phillips, spokesman for Milan Investment Club, LLC, a three-member ownership group based in the Kansas City area.

Phillips said the group took possession of the property in early October, nearly 13 months after submitting the lone bid for the property at a sheriff’s auction in Deadwood.

“We took title to the property less than a month ago on Oct. 4,” Phillips said in a telephone interview. “Before that we had no title, no right to be on the property, no right to do anything.”

The reason for the delay: After the auction, the former owners of the ski resort had an automatic one-year right-of-redemption period to satisfy financial obligations and keep possession of the property.

According to published reports, the former ownership group, Union Resort LLC and four Black Hills area residents, purchased the Deer Mountain property in 2008 and renamed it Mystic Miner at Deer Mountain with the intention of developing it into a year-round resort.

However in August 2017, a 4th Circuit Court judge ruled that Union Resort LLC owed $2.2 million in first and second mortgages, $1.1 million in interest, as well as additional interest and attorneys’ fees for a total of $3,738,594.

The property went up for a sheriff’s auction on the steps of the Lawrence County courthouse in September 2017, with the lone bid of $1 over that amount made by an attorney representing Milan Investment Club LLC.

Now with deed finally in hand, Phillips said the new owners are concentrating on making repairs to a water system providing service to about 150 homes and apartments in the Deer Mountain subdivision along with the ski resort that is five miles south of Lead.

“We wanted to make sure that system is adequate enough and safe enough to supply water to these 150 hookups,” Phillips said.

The system had fallen into disrepair with the water bill unpaid for several months, he said.

He and the other owners purchased new pumps to keep the water flowing, spent $12,500 to get the bill current and paid $80,000 in taxes.

Phillips said once repairs are complete, the owners will be working with the Deer Mountain Sanitary System to take over the water system.

As for the resort itself, including a lodge, ski area and tubing slope, a clean-up is nearly complete. They are also working to help repair the access road to the resort.

There is talk of trying to open the tubing slope for the upcoming winter season, but Phillips said with the traditional opening weekend less than two weeks away, time is not on their side.

“It’s late to get into this thing, but that’s the way the law is. We couldn’t do anything before this,” he said.

An avid skier, Phillips said he would love to be closer to the area and help oversee operation of the property as a resort but that’s not possible for him or the ownership group.

Ultimately, he said the goal is to sell the property, but for now he'll enjoy having a piece of prime real estate in the heart of the Black Hills.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” he said. “We’re happy to own it.”

top story
Black Hills Red Cross volunteers deploy to California

For the third time in 14 months, Hill City's Becky Eisenbraun is flying to a natural disaster with the American Red Cross. And her husband, Dale, doesn't mind.

"I'm proud of her," he said. "I encourage her. She's doing what she loves."

On Wednesday, she was one of two volunteers with the American Red Cross in the Black Hills — the other is Denise Parker of Lead — to deploy to California to assist with wildfire-relief efforts.

Eisenbraun, who spoke at the Rapid City Red Cross office off North Maple Avenue before hopping on a 2 p.m. flight that would ultimately land her in Sacramento, will work as a shelter assistant in California, much as she did in the aftermath of hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

"I'm disabled. So, I want to be of help to people with my time," she said. "If my smile can help someone along on one of their worst days, then I've done my job."

Two wildfires in California — the Camp Fire in Paradise in northern California and the Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles — have torched hundreds of thousands of acres and killed 56 people as of Wednesday afternoon. At least another 100 people are still unaccounted for in Paradise. More than 5,000 firefighter personnel, meanwhile, are battling the Camp Fire blaze alone. 

Eisenbraun will learn her assignment upon landing in Sacramento, headquarters for Red Cross efforts in that fire-ravaged region. Currently, the Red Cross is providing meals, health services, spiritual care, comfort and other support for those affected by the fires, the Red Cross said in a news release. As of Tuesday, nearly 1,000 people had sought refuge from the wildfires at 11 evacuation centers managed by the Red Cross and communities across California.

Eisenbraun's deployment will last two weeks. She understands her volunteering for hurricane relief won't necessarily prepare her for wildfire relief, but she is confident in her training with the Red Cross.

"I can't understand what they're going through, but I'm preparing to help in whatever way I can," she said.

And with that, she turned to her husband.

"Can you drive me to the airport?"

And, like many volunteers in the familiar red shirt and cap across the country, Eisenbraun was off, once again, leaving home to lend a hand.

South Dakota’s Thune elevated to No. 2 Senate leadership post

South Dakota’s John Thune climbed to the second-highest rung on the Senate Republican leadership ladder Wednesday with a promotion to majority whip.

A term limit for majority whips forced Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, out of the job. Thune ran unopposed for the position and was elected by his Senate colleagues.

According to the Senate website, whips are responsible for counting heads and rounding up party members for votes and quorum calls, and they occasionally stand in for the majority or minority leaders in their absence. The majority whip ranks behind only the majority leader among the leadership positions to which senators are elected by their colleagues.

“I’m grateful to my Senate colleagues for once again trusting me with a seat at the leadership table, providing me with the opportunity and platform to give issues that are important to South Dakota the national attention they deserve and continue to build on the pro-growth, pro-jobs agenda we’ve implemented over the last two years,” Thune said in a written statement.

Thune had served in the No. 3 Republican Senate leadership post as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference since 2012. He had also been serving as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation since 2015, but he will now have to give up that chairmanship to serve as whip.

Thune, a 57-year-old Murdo native, served in the U.S. House from 1997 to 2003 before beginning his service in the U.S. Senate in 2005. He is currently serving his third term in the Senate, having been re-elected in 2010 and 2016. 

According to Thune’s office, he is the highest-ranking Republican U.S. senator in South Dakota history. 

The man Thune beat in 2004 to gain election to the Senate, Tom Daschle, was a Democrat who was serving as Senate minority leader at the time and had previously served as majority leader.