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An interesting audit of the SOS office from the Gant years

October 29, 2015 1 comment

Tomorrow, October 30, the South Dakota legislatures Government Operations & Audit Committee (GOAC) will meet at 9 am in Pierre. dreamstime_s_22701227I’ve done a post looking very briefly at all agenda items but one.  That one agenda item is the audit that was performed of certain areas of the Secretary of State (SOS) office. This post will look at that agenda item.

Before I continue this post  I want to say two things. First, I hoped to never have to mention former Secretary of State Jason Gant on this blog again. And second, I’ve heard many say that all these “inconsistencies” that come up with Gant are a case of current SOS Shantel Krebs throwing Gant under the bus? I don’t see any of these as cases of Krebs throwing Gant under the bus; rather it is how transparency in government is supposed to work. If an elected official, or their office, does anything questionable or acts inept it should be discovered and brought to the public’s attention!

The GOAC meeting agenda item in question is number 8. It is the audit completed for “certain accounting records and processes at the Secretary of State’s Office at December 31, 2014”. The document can be viewed here. December 31, 2014, is important because it would have been the end of Gant’s last year in office (although he had actually been working from Sioux Falls for months at that time).

There were seven sections of the document. Here is a summary of what I found important from each section:

Section 1 – Inconsistencies with PAD account.

The SOS office has prepaid account deposit (PAD) accounts to receive money from entities that frequently use the offices services. The SOS office shows these PAD accounts have a balance of $289,287.47 as of Dec. 31, 2014. That amount should reconcile the cash balance in the local bank account and the PAD accounts reported on the states accounted system; those two together equal $254,970.63. That leaves a difference of $43,307.84. The audit notes there “was no evidence of reconciliation explaining the $43,307.84 difference”.

This definitely needs to be looked into further. Is this a case of Gant’s office once again being inept and failing to keep the books updated. Or is it a case of money going somewhere it shouldn’t…

Section 2 – Original State flag missing

This particular item has caused a bit of news. It was determined the original State flag was missing. The flag has been found by the AG’s office and criminal charges are forthcoming. Apparently  a former SOS employee living in DC has the flag. Another case of the Gant office not living up to the standards expected by the public.

Section 3 – Missing iPad minis

Three of thirty iPad minis were found missing on January 2, 2015. Not only would I question why there are three missing iPad’s, but I would also question why the office needed that many. Although perhaps they are used to help County Auditors during election season. It would be interesting to hear what Gant has to say.

Section 4 – Adequate budget to finish FY2015, but there are unexpected items impacting the budget.

The audit found the SOS office has stayed within budget and is on track to do so at the end of FY2015. Yet there are three unexpected items which are having an impact on the SOS FY2015 budget:

  1. The 2013 legislative manual (Blue Book) that is normally printed every odd year was not available until December 2014 (a year and a half late). The Blue Book was not only published late, but a different publisher was chosen. That caused the 2013 Blue Book to fall in the FY2015 year, instead of FY2013 or FY2014. The blue book published was $16,360 for FY2015. Worse yet, the original publisher “filed a claim of $28,512.93 plus accrued interest in damages in April 2015.” Gant just keeps costing the state money. Not only did Gant’s office fall behind by a year and half publishing the Blue Book, it was done in a way that costs the taxpayers thousands of extra dollars. Additionally it placed an unexpected expense on the new SOS.
  2. An election history book was contracted during FY2014, with most of the cost occurring in FY2015. Actually when I go to the SOS office later this fall I want to see the election history book. I think it is an interesting topic for a book, but should that have been an undertaking of the SOS office?
  3. In 2014 Corporate documents were removed from online websites by the SD Bureau of Information Technology (BIT) because some documents had personally identifiable information. Redacting these documents and getting them back online in the proper fashion will take time and money from the SOS office. One more case where the Gant office should have been paying attention to what was going on.

Section 5 – Payroll is fine!

Good news! No exceptions were found in the operating and payroll expenditure transactions. Gant did good paying his bills and employees!

Section 6 – HAVA and FVAP issues

A review of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant and the Electronic Absentee Systems for Elections – Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) expenditures for the Gant years. It is not suprising to see HAVA have some issues with the Gant administration. Previously I‘ve blogged about how the Gant administration spent over half a million dollars to implement a system that is less functional than the existing hundred thousand dollar system.

Here are the inconsistencies found in this area for the Gant years:

  1. HAVA sub-grants were given out to SD counties totaling $110,495. The invoices for these sub-grants were not kept, so they could not be properly audited. That means it cannot be verified the sub-grant money was allocated according to the defined process.
  2. A cloud storage device was being paid for purely by HAVA grant funds even though the device was also used for Division of Business Services purposes. Any money used for Division of Business Services cannot utilize HAVA grant funds. This is an other area the Gant office failed to retain documentation, therefore it is not possible to show HAVA grant money is being spent properly.
  3. HAVA grant was also used to pay for oversight of the FVAP grant. The audit finds that use of HAVA funds is now allowable.

It almost appears at this time that the Gant office used the HAVA funds without actually understanding the restrictions tied to the grant. Actually this document even says the following:

The Secretary of State’s Office did not have adequate internal control policies or procedures with regards to HAVA and FVAP management.

That is just dealing with one small, but important, function when dealing with elections. How many other areas of the SOS office were left without internal control policies or procedures during the Gant years?

Section 7 – Remaining HAVA funds fine!

No exceptions were found for the remaining allocated balances of HAVA funds available to SD counties!

A full agenda for the Government Operations & Audit Committee (GOAC) meeting on Oct 30

October 29, 2015 1 comment
SD State Capital. Photo by Ken Santema.

SD State Capital. Photo by Ken Santema.

On Friday, October 30, the South Dakota legislatures Government Operations & Audit Committee (GOAC) will meet at 9 am in Pierre. Of particular interest in this meeting is the report from the Secretary of State (SOS), which is towards the end of the agenda. I am going to look at the SOS portion of this meeting in a separate post!

Here is a brief breakdown of all ten items on GOAC’s agenda. Most of these are items I’ll refrain from digging into so I can spend more time on the SOS portion of the meeting (that post will be separate!).

Item 1 – Oversight Council – To provide the annual report called for in the Public Safety Improvement Act

Public Safety Improvement Act (PSIA) was passed by the legislature in 2013 as  SB 70.  This is the Governor’s big criminal justice reform that he is so proud of. The biggest problem I’ve seen with PSIA is that it doesn’t do anything to reduce the amount of criminals. This could be done by getting rid of victim-less crimes. Instead of getting rid of victim-less crimes, PSIA treats criminals differently in a way that shifts cost of handling those criminals from the State to the Counties. That is really putting a lot of strain on the counties, which area already lacking cash.

Item 2 – Attorney General’s Office to provide an overview and answer Committee questions regarding the following Other Funds:

  • Law Enforcement Officers Training Fund – Company 3010

This fund has quite a bit of money going through it. Looking at the document prepared for GOAC the fund brings in over $3 million in revenue and about the same in expenses for fiscal year 2015.

  • 911 Telecommunicator Training Fund – Company 3010

This program shows expenses of over $220,000 for fiscal year 2015 according to the document provided to GOAC.

Item 3 – Unified Judicial System to provide an overview and answer Committee questions regarding the Court Automation Fund – Company 3012

The document provided to GOAC shows this fund gets almost $8 million in revenue and just over $6 million in expenses for fiscal year 2015.

Item 4 – School and Public Lands to provide an overview and answer Committee questions regarding the Human Services Fund – Company 5018

This particular fund I really hadn’t researched before. Here is what the document from SPL says about the fund:

Human Services Fund Description

Human Services Fund Description

Item 5 – Board of Massage Therapists to provide an overview and answer Committee questions regarding Company 6503

The document provided to GOAC shows revenue of just under $50k and expenses of just under $68k for fiscal year 2015.

Item 6 – Department of Environment and Natural Resources to provide an overview and answer Committee questions regarding the Petroleum Release Compensation Fund – Company 3036

The document provided GOAC shows this fund brings in revenue of just under $2 million in fiscal year 2015.

Item 7 – Department of Social Services to discuss:

  • The status of the open hospital administrator’s position at the Human Services Center
  • Safety measures at the Human Services Center

No documents have been posted for DSS yet.

Item 8 – Secretary of State Agreed Upon Procedures Report

Post forthcoming!

Item 9 – Department of Legislative Audit to review fiscal year 2015 separately issued audit reports and Single Audit findings

Legislative Audit’s report can be viewed here.

Item 10 – Review draft of the GOAC Annual Report to the Executive Board and authorize the Chair to finalize the report

The current draft of the report can be viewed here.

Tribal Economic Development Task Force meeting on Oct 30, industrial hemp bill forthcoming

October 28, 2015 Comments off
"Indian Camp" artwork in the SD State Capital building. Photo by Ken Santema 02/25/15.

“Indian Camp” artwork in the SD State Capital building. Photo by Ken Santema 02/25/15.

On Friday, October 30, the Tribal Economic Development Task Force for South Dakota will meet in Pierre. This is a task force I haven’t really been following throughout the year, but maybe should have. There have been some interesting tidbits I’ve found in the minutes from previous meetings.

Before looking at the agenda for the Oct 30 meeting it is worth looking at a few items from the previous meetings:

June 5, 2015, Tribal Economic Development Task Force meeting

The minutes from this meeting show it was all about discovering how bad things are on the reservations. One part of the minutes does highlight one of the bigger problems I see with economic development on tribal lands:

Mr. Del Ray German said a lack of capital is a struggle. Senator Bradford pointed out that issues with trust land is a challenge, because business owners can lease a building for five years, put $50,000 into the building, and then after the lease is expired, the tribe can take the building from the business owner. It is a large risk to take.

Property rights and rule of law to enforce property rights are required for capitalism to function. This is a problem much greater than just a corporation going in and not being able to own lands. Many small businesses are financed through a mortgage on the primary resident of the business owner. If tribal members don’t own the house they live in, there is no opportunity to use a mortgage in order to take the risk and start a business. I still think tribes should look at somehow allowing financial services on the reservation that would allow for property rights. In the case of foreclosure it would still be tribal trust land. It would be interesting to see something like that tried in South Dakota.

August 10, 2015, Tribal Economic Development Task Force meeting

Looking at the minutes from the second meeting I see further testimony that property rights (or lack thereof) is a problem on tribal lands in a trust. Here is a portion of the minutes from the testimony by Mr. Michael LaPointe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe:

A much larger issue is the tribes have no ability to build wealth, and no taxing authority. Mr. LaPointe thinks there are two implications when you don’t own land, you cannot build wealth, and you can’t build tax revenue. This is a problem for the tribes. They cannot tax and hire a decent police force. Representative May asks if Mr. LaPointe believes the tribes should be in a partnership with the state government, instead of the federal government. Mr. LaPointe agrees.

Right now the tribes need to build wealth in order to be self-sufficient. A lack of property rights makes capitalism a hard tool to use for building wealth.

I also found the question fromRep Elizabeth May (R, Dist 27) about partnering with the state instead of the federal government was worth asking. State government is much closer and has a symbiotic relationship with the tribes. Logistically and legally that may not be an option. But it would be interesting to look into.

September 28, 2015, Tribal Economic Development Task Force meeting

This meeting also peaked by interest because of the possibility of industrialized hep mentioned in the minutes. Here is the full section about industrialized hemp from the minutes:

Representative Verchio distributed copies of a draft bill: An Act to authorize the production and sale of industrial hemp. (Document #1) Representative Verchio said that he sees this as an opportunity to produce jobs in both farming and manufacturing. Hemp does not cause a high when smoked, as does the marijuana plant. Hemp is used in making rope, animal food, cosmetics, and many more products.

Representative May said that two years ago she had proposed a resolution regarding legalizing the production of hemp in South Dakota. Representative May said that law enforcement had argued that they cannot tell the difference between the marijuana plant and the hemp plant when they are growing in the fields.

Representative May continued saying that this is a huge opportunity for South Dakota farmers and that having hemp as a rotational crop would be beneficial. She said that this specific bill has too many regulations that may hamper those interested in growing this crop.

Representative Verchio said that he included the regulations to help reduce the resistance from law enforcement. He said that once people see how this crop is grown and used; those regulations could be reduced.

Representative Verchio asked LRC staff to send copies of this proposed legislation to all members of the Tribal Economic Development Task Force so that it may be discussed further at the next task force meeting.

Unfortunately the draft bill offered by Rep Mike Verchio (R, Dist 30) was not attached to the minutes. I’ve blogged about industrial hemp a few times over the last couple of years and know many farmers in NE South Dakota that would love the ability to choose from hemp. For the tribes it could be a huge economic development tool.

The resolution mentioned by Rep May was 2014’s HCR 1017.  May was the House sponsor, where passed 61-6. On the Senate side Sen Jason Frerichs (D, Dist 1) was the sponsor and it failed 13-21. Maybe the 2016 session can see a bill legalizing hemp passed, going well beyond a resolution. The federal farm bill including hemp research is a possible entry point to use for such legislation.

October 30, 2015, Tribal Economic Development Task Force meeting

The agenda for this meeting is quite short. I really hope to hear more in this meeting about possibilities of industrial hemp as an economic development tool for the tribes. Here is the full agenda:

  • 10:00 a.m. Call to Order; Approval of Minutes – September 28, 2015 meeting Determination of Quorum Chair’s Remarks
  • 10:15 a.m. Introductions
  • 10:30 a.m. Tribal Presentations
  • 11:30 a.m. Agency Presentations
  • 12:30 p.m. Committee Discussion
  • 1:30 p.m. Public Testimony
  • 2:00 p.m. Adjourn

SDHSAA Interim Committee meeting on Oct 30, recap of Aug 20 meeting

October 28, 2015 Comments off
TransGender Symbol from WikiMedia Commons.

TransGender Symbol from WikiMedia Commons.

Update: original version of this post had the meeting incorrectly listed as Oct 28.

On October 30 the legislative South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) Interim committee will meet once again. My post written prior to the August 20 meeting can be read here; that post provided a recap of legislative actions in regards to the transgender policy up to that point. The SDHSAA’s transgender policy remains the top focus of this committee.

Before looking at the agenda for the October 30 meeting it is worth looking at a few tidbits from the August 20 minutes

August 20 SDHSAA Interim Committee Meeting

In the meeting Ms. Roxanne Hammond, Legislative Attorney, listed various case-law in regards to transgender rights. She also cited Title IX:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

Title IX comes at the core of the issue for many proponents of the transgender policy from the SDHSAA. There is fear federal funds could be lost if such a policy is not implemented. It was not Title IX conformity that drove the policy though. In the meeting it was noted that a member school asked for guidance from the SDHSAA in 2013, and that began the process that lead to an eventual policy being implemented.

Sen Bill Van Gerpen (R, Dist 19) mentioned that neither state or federal law includes a definition of gender. That point is important because outside of the circles pushing for the transgender policy I don’t believe many people realize gender is different from sex.

Mr. John Krogstrand, Assistant Executive Director, SDHSAA, gave a presentation explaining the policies history. A part of the reason he gave for the policy is so that a student wasn’t treated as one gender during the school day, then a separate gender when participating in school activities away from the classroom. Along those lines, if the legislature does make a policy specific to the SDHSAA I also expect they will set a policy that the Board of Education must follow. Local control advocates may get nervous about such actions…

Rep Roger Hunt (R, Dist 25) presented a letter from the Family Heritage Alliance Action. The letter asked the SDHSAA to replace its transgender policy with the following:

For purposes of participation in athletics sanctioned by the SDHSAA the sole determinant of a student’s sexual identity is the student’s sex. The student’s sex is defined as the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined at conception, identified at birth by a person’s anatomy, and recorded on their official birth certificate.

A version of that paragraph will likely become the legislation pushed in 2016. A motion was made and passed for the LRC to draft legislation based upon the above paragraph for the next committee meeting.

There was also an attempt to have legislation made that would put the SDHSAA under legislative rule making authority. That failed, but I think an individual legislator is likely to bring a bill of their own in 2016. The SDHSAA is an odd organization. It was created via codified law, but is voluntary and it is questionable whether it really answers to the legislature. There are times however the legislature has passed laws specifically for the SDHSAA to follow.

October 30 interim committee meeting

The agenda for this meeting is quite small and it doesn’t look like the meeting should last very long. But there are two pieces of draft legislation the LRC has ready for the meeting.

Here is the draft legislation based upon the Family Heritage Alliance Action letter:

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to define gender for the purpose of participation in high school activities.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA:
Section 1. That chapter 13-36 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:
For purposes of participation in any activity sanctioned by the South Dakota High School Activities Association, or any other entity granted authority under chapter 13-36, the sole determinant of a student’s sexual identity is his or her gender. His or her gender is defined by the physical condition of being male or female, determined at conception, identified at birth by the student’s anatomy, and recorded on the student’s official birth certificate.

The other draft legislation would define gender in state law:

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to define gender for the purpose of any gender-specific determination.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA:
Section 1. If the determination of a person’s gender is deemed necessary, gender is the physical condition of being male or female, determined at conception, identified by the person’s anatomy, and recorded on the person’s official birth certificate.

It should be interesting to watch the debate over gender vs sex in Pierre this next session.

Recreational Pot Lounge was a topic in the State-Tribal Relations interim committee meeting

October 28, 2015 Comments off

Earlier this week I did a post bringing attention to the State-Tribal Relations interim committee meeting that was held yesterday. I had the opportunity to actually listen to the committee meeting and was pleased to discover that the recreation pot lounge being implemented by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe (FSST) was a major topic of discussion. This is a topic I’ve meant to blog about for some time, and this gave me the perfect opportunity. This post just highlights some things said during the meeting.

Sen Jim Bradford speaking on the SD Senate floor. Photo by Ken Santema 03/10/15.

Sen Jim Bradford speaking on the SD Senate floor. Photo by Ken Santema 03/10/15.

Sen Jim Bradford (D, Dist 27) was the first I heard speak about the lounge in Flandreau. He had spoken with Rep Elizabeth May (R, Dist 27) about the lounge. Bradford passed on a report of what the tribe is trying to do. Most notable is that the tribe is not trying to put pot on the street. Rather Bradford noted “it is a business and it is being run like a business”.  I really think more legislators, especially those involved with tribal relations, should have made the effort to tour the FSST lounge.

Rep Shawn Bordeaux (D, Dist 26A) mentioned that South Dakota has an “ingestion” law. I believe the law referred to by Bordeaux is SDCL 22-42-15:

22-42-15.   Ingesting substance, except alcoholic beverages, for the purpose of becoming intoxicated as misdemeanor–Venue for violation. Any person who intentionally ingests, inhales, or otherwise takes into the body any substance, except alcoholic beverages as defined in § 35-1-1, for purposes of becoming intoxicated, unless such substance is prescribed by a practitioner of the medical arts lawfully practicing within the scope of the practitioner’s practice, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The venue for a violation of this section exists in either the jurisdiction in which the substance was ingested, inhaled, or otherwise taken into the body or the jurisdiction in which the substance was detected in the body of the accused.

Bordeaux noted that if someone goes into the lounge in Flandreau and leaves the reservation that they would be breaking the ingestion law. He said if other states have had success with legalizing medical marijuana, which they have, that FSST should also be successful. He went on to say “the tribes are as broke as our counties”. This could be an economic development program for the tribes. Finally he mentioned the mafia didn’t come to the state, which was the argument used to try keeping casinos off the reservations.

The Office of the Attorney Generals was on hand to speak. Charlie McGuigan, Chief Deputy Attorney General, and Kirsten Jasper, Appellate Division. Jasper is involved with tribal jurisdictional issues.

Jasper said that marijuana is illegal both at the state and federal level. She said the state would have jurisdiction over any non-Indian whether they are on the reservation or not; further the state would have jurisdiction over any tribal member once they leave the reservation. Jasper also noted that anyone that has THC in their blood or urine is in violation of the ingestion law. There is no legal level of THC for ingestion, any level is considered illegal. Sen Bradford asked how many states have an ingestion law. Jasper said she thought SD was the only one. In my research I haven’t been able to find any other states with a similar law.

Bradford then (in a roundabout way) asked if the AG’s office would be pulling people over leaving the reservation. Jasper said normal probable cause still would have to be followed. But she did not rule out law enforcement being at the border waiting to catch people.

Rep Shawn Bordeaux speaking on the SD House floor. Photo by Ken Santema 02/25/15.

Rep Shawn Bordeaux speaking on the SD House floor. Photo by Ken Santema 02/25/15.

Rep Bordeaux said the FSST is starting this undertaking because the Feds came out with a document saying such facilities operated by tribes would not be prosecuted under federal law. The document apparently said the tribal land will be treated like states that have already legalized medical marijuana. But he did note that a tribe near the Great Lakes was pursued for growing industrial hemp. I believe Bordeaux was referring to the DEA going after the Menominee Indian Tribe.

There was then some more discussion about jurisdiction. The most interesting part was McGuigan stating:

Because the use of drugs is a victim-less crime, the state would have jurisdiction over that.

Notice how the AG’s office called this a victim-less crime. Such an admission from the AG’s office should help make the case that the current law is not in place to protect anyone.

There were also a couple of FSST members that came to give testimony and answer questions for the committee.  The two speaking were Ryan Kills-a-Hundred and Kenny Weston, both listed as Executive Committee members on the FSST website.  Both were in attendance to answer any questions the committee had.

Kills-a-Hundred confirmed the tribe received a memorandum from the federal government that the program would be OK as long as certain requirements were maintained. He noted this was purely looked at as an economic development program and was not done lightly. The recreational pot lounge will not be a way for marijuana to get out into the community, like can happen in Colorado.

Kills-a-Hundred also mentioned that the Iowa casino hurt the FSST pretty hard financially. He said the tribe likes to be self-sufficient and doesn’t like to beg for money. The recreational pot lounge is a means to help the tribe remain self-sufficient.

Rep Bordeaux mentioned he wanted to see fairness from the state in this situation. He doesn’t see the state going after cars from Colorado, but has fears people leaving Flandreau will be targeted. Bordeaux asked how the tribe will deal with that, and what the state can do to help.

The reply from Weston was that sometimes the former PD would already target the customers of the casino (FSST recently went to its own PD). That point wasn’t expanded upon as much I wished it would be. But there is a lot of whispering (rumors) that patrons of the lounge will be targeted to show the state is tough on drugs.

Weston mentioned the tribe will be tracking the containers that go to customers. Kills-a-Hundred also added this is not really a resort, but more of a lounge (hence the reason I’ve been using the word lounge throughout this post). There will be security on site and cameras going at all times. Other security measures have also been taken to protect the customers and make sure no other illegal activity occurs. He believes they will be more strict with policies and measures taken than any other bar in the state.

Kills-a-Hundred made it quite clear this lounge does not legalize marijuana on all of the tribal lands. This new lounge will not permit tribe member to grow or use marijuana at their homes. Any activity outside of the lounge will be treated as is always has been.

I’ll end the post here. The whole committee meeting is worth listening to. But I think what was mentioned above is a good starting point to talk about the new recreational pot lounge in Flandreau. I’m hoping this fall some legislators will try another attempt to tour the facility, if that happens I would like to tour with them.

County Government Interim Committee meeting on Oct 28, previous meetings recap

October 27, 2015 2 comments
1892 map of South Dakota Counties provided by LRC Audit presentation.

1892 map of South Dakota Counties provided by LRC Audit presentation.

On October 28 the County Government Interim Committee will meet in Pierre. This committee has had two two-day meetings previously. I spoke with committee member  Rep Dennis Feickert (D, Dist 1) just before the first meeting. At that time I felt it unlikely anything meaningful will come out of the meeting; mostly because focus in the 2016 session will be on education funding. I still feel that way, and find it ironic because county funding and education funding are almost symbiotic at this point.

The meetings documents from these meetings can read at the links below:

8/19/15 – 8/20/15 docs

9/16/15 – 9/17/15 docs

Before looking at the agenda meeting for Oct 28 it might be worth looking at a few highlights from the previous meetings. There was a LOT going on at these meetings, so this only calls out a very small fraction of the meetings.

8/19/15 – 8/20/15 Meeting 

This first meeting was meant to be information gathering. There is a good presentation from Legislative Audit explaining county revenues and expenditures. But I think a slide towards the end of the presentation summed up the biggest issue this committee will run into when trying to pass legislation:

Most counties have budget issues; however, each county’s budget issues are unique and influenced by many factors.

A one-size-fits-all solution will not work, and will likely not get enough votes to pass.

Over the last few years I have heard many county officials around the state complain about the State pushing more costs to the counties. That was reflected multiple times in this meeting:

From Ms. Cindy Heiberger, Minnehaha County Commissioner:

Ms. Heiberger said changes in the state statutes affect law enforcement at the local level and when law enforcement is mandated to take care of things, the county needs additional revenue. The county is looking at building a new jail and the county will probably fund it with property taxes. Ms. Muller said next year they may be looking at renting jail beds. Public safety, including law enforcement, is 53% of the Minnehaha County budget.

From Ms. Janet Sayler, Pennington County Treasurer

Ms. Sayler listed the duties according to statute of the county treasurer’s office (Document #8). She said the legislature is always quick to add more responsibilities, but it never allows for the county to get paid for all of the extra work they are forced to do for everyone else. She said when laws are changed; the county is forced to update its computer systems to implement the law, usually at a significant expense to the county.

Ms. Cathy Powell, Clay County Treasurer

Ms. Powell thinks HB 1228 will adversely affect the treasurer’s office. She asked how people can do business if they can’t license their vehicles. She said county treasurers are tax collectors; if a resident doesn’t pay their taxes; the county takes property away; a time-consuming process; in Clay County they deal with 10 to 12 tax deeds per year.

HB 1228 (SoDakLiberty Posts) is also mentioned by Ms. Janet Sayler, Pennington County Treasurer, earlier in the meeting. It does not appear to be popular with the counties. HB 1228 is the new debt collection agency created by the SD Legislature in 2015. It has the Orwellian name Obligation Recovery Center, and I still can’t find anyone outside of the Republicans in the legislature that think it was a good idea.

There are many more examples from the meeting. But I think the above portions show that counties believe the state is pushing more responsibilities on them. Personally I do feel most government should be closer to the people. Yet in this case it appears mandates from the state are being substituted for local control. In particular I noticed rising costs of county jails, which is a direct result of legislative measures taken in the last few years.

Along those lines. This from Ms. Staci Ackerman, Executive Director of the SD Sheriffs Association:

Changes in statutes have resulted in more arrests and increased court cases; there are more sex crime investigations, new crimes on the internet. More and more fingerprinting is required by legislation, this is the responsibility of sheriffs. Court and parole services increasingly requests sheriffs to check on clients or to provide urinalysis. When presentence investigations are ordered, the client remains in jail until completed, a cost to the county.

A number of Sheriff’s testified to give specific examples. One example came from Sheriff Ray Clements, Jackson County:

Sheriff Clements said he didn’t realize the impact of SB 70 until he saw the increase in the jail budget and the state reimbursements were not covering it. He said he has currently $76,000 in jail bills, with an annual budget of $56,000. He says the number of calls for services have gone up. Sheriff Clements said now, people are being sentenced to the penitentiary, suspended, and given 180 days county jail time. This is at county expense.

The bill referred to was SB 70, the  Public Safety Improvement Act (PSIA) passed for Governor Daugaard by the legislature in 2013. Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley have been quite proud of this legislation. SB 70 was mentioned by a lot of the law enforcement representatives in attendance. Personally I think the results from the program are mixed at best; and have caused more problems than it was meant to solve. Perhaps looking at reducing victim-less crimes will actually create fewer criminals, and thus put less stress on the counties…

9/16/15 – 9/17/15 Meeting

In the second meeting there was a presentation answering questions from the first meeting.  This tidbit from Mr. Russ Olson, Local Government Audit Manager, Legislative Audit, is interesting:

The charts found in the document show that roughly 89% of the counties’ all government funds are for statutory functions

That seems to back the counties feeling they are being piled on by the state.

In this meeting there were a lot of mentions from counties to get additional revenue from a new sales tax or increasing liquor taxes.

The LRC issued a series of draft legislation for the upcoming session. But more interesting was the draft legislation submitted by Sen Mike Vehle (R, Dist 20). Vehle was the architect of the massive tax and fee increases in 2015 via SB 1 (SoDakLiberty Posts). It appears this time Vehle is offering legislation to “impose a county sales and use tax that would apply to sales that do not occur within a municipality thus not being subject to city sales and use tax.”

The Attorney General, Marty Jackley, had a presentation. He acknowledges costs that goes to the county. An example:

Mr. Jackley went through the growing number of criminal cases that are heard each year. The bulk of these cases are prosecuted by the county prosecutors, with the Attorney General’s (AG) office stepping in for various reasons. With very few exceptions, the costs for these cases are paid by the counties, even if the AG’s office prosecutes the case. One exception is if the crime takes place in the state prison, then the state is responsible for the cost because of where the crime occurred.

Rep Elizabeth May (R, Dist 27)brought up 2013’s SB 70 as a question for Jackley:

Representative May asked about the increased costs to the counties due to the passage of SB70. Mr. Jackley explained that the county is responsible for any costs attributed to anyone detained in the jail and the state is responsible for anyone held in the state penitentiary. SB70 established more probation presumptions and probation is a county expense, and that is the main reason SB70 has increased county expenses. When an offender is given probation, all costs, including drug and alcohol treatment, is the responsibility of the county

During committee discussion it was said by a few legislators that looking at reallocating current taxes would be better than a new tax. Rep May brought up a trend I think the committee should focus on:

Representative May pointed out that the common denominator is that the state makes the laws and the counties have to figure out how to pay for all the mandates. Perhaps the committee should take a look at what the statutes require of the counties and see if the state could fund some of those programs

10/28/15 Meeting

The meeting on Oct 28 actually has a pretty short agenda:

  • 9:00 a.m. Call to Order, Determination of Quorum, Approval of Minutes – September 16-17 meeting, Chair’s Remarks
  • 9:15 a.m. Draft Legislation (Review and Discussion)
  • 10:15 a.m. Public Testimony
  • 11:30 a.m. Draft Legislation (Action)
  • 3:00 p.m. Adjourn

It appears that for better or worse the outcome of this interim committee will be known on October 28.

Aberdeen Library Bond vote to happen on Dec 15

October 27, 2015 Comments off
Proposed site for the Aberdeen Library. Photo by Ken Santema.

Proposed site for the Aberdeen Library. Photo by Ken Santema.

Last week I mentioned the Aberdeen Library bond will go to a vote. The City Council yesterday evening chose to have the special election on December 15, 2015. I didn’t think it would happen that soon because the County Auditor’s office had asked for 60 days to prepare… But at least the vote will be done with in less than two months and the fate of the project will be decided.

Two weeks ago I  published a post bringing attention to the petition that made this special election happen. I was supportive of the petition and generally felt there was no need for the new library to be built. I still feel that way. But in the interest of getting all viewpoints out there I will publish a post centering around an interview I did with a library proponent.

It will be interesting to see how this vote goes and how turnout will be. Special elections often get overlooked. Yet last night I was able to see a lot of social media traffic about the election being set for 2015. It should be interesting indeed…

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