Questions on assessment clarified
By Katie Zerr –
The proposed change in designation of funding from a front foot assessment spurred discussion Tuesday, Sept. 4 city council meeting on the necessity for providing funds to groups not a part of city government.
Questioning the reasoning behind the special hearing for a proposed resolution to create a special assessment for the storm sewer project fund, Ward III Councilman Gene Cox opened a discussion on the city budget. He said he had calls from concerned citizens who were upset the city was raising taxes to pay for sewer projects. A postcard notifying the public on the special hearing Monday, Sept. 17, was sent to each household in the city to meet the requirements of the change in designation. Cox said the people are questioning why the city takes money from the general fund to give to other entities in the city. He said they were concerned their tax dollars are going to these entities and they are asked to pay more to fund the infrastructure expansion in the city.
“We are giving $65,000 to other entities, why aren’t we giving that money towards the Second Avenue West Sewer Project?” he asked.
Mobridge City Attorney and Finance Officer Heather Beck explained that the hearing is required because it is a resolution change.
Cain said the 20 cents per front-foot on all lots in the city is currently being designated to a sewer repair fund.
“We are not raising taxes, we are putting that funding into a different project fund,” he said.
That money will now be designated to the Second Avenue West Sewer project, changing the designation of the fund, not adding an additional 20 cents to the assessment of which Cox said his callers were concerned.
Beck explained the city wants to change the designation in order for the county to be able to add the assessment to resident’s yearly tax bills. That will take the administration of the assessment out of the hands of the finance office.
Cox also expressed concern over the amount of cash in reserves ($750,000) while the city designates $65,000 to other groups.
“I believe a city of our size should have at least $1 million in reserves,” he said.
Ward II Councilwoman Amy Cerney asked Cox which entities did he think the council should eliminate from their annual budget. Ward I Councilman Tom O’Connell told the council what Cox was questioning would mean the council would have to start the 2013 budgeting over if the council decided to back Cox’s suggestion.
Cox said he was bringing the discussion to the table because he was questioned by residents on the special hearing.
After the meeting, Beck said there has been a 40-cent assessment on the front-footage for many years and the additional 20 cents was added last year. She said despite the concerns of those who called Cox and other councilmen, the taxes are not being raised, only the designation changed. She said the 20-cent assessment would no longer be on the tax bills after the project designated by the fund was completed and paid for through that fund.
Mobridge Airport manager Virgil Lenling and LaVerne Hermanson, the South Dakota fire aviation officer, approached the council about building a home base for the wildfire suppression agency at Mobridge Regional Airport.
Hermanson explained that he and other flight crews have spent many hours at the airport during the summer months with support aircraft for fire suppression in the area. He said if the drought continues they would be spending many more hours here. There are currently seven people working through the airport.
“Last year we were here on the Fourth of July and left in November,” he said. “We support the community. We stay at hotels, eat at restaurants and buy gas here.”
The fire home base would include a large hangar to house the planes and a 3,000-gallon water tank. He said the entities the base would serve, including the Standing Rock and Cheyenne Reservations, would help pay for the construction of the base.
Lenling said after the fire season was over, the hangar could be rented out to house jets used by hunters and businessmen that are currently being stored in hangars and Bismarck and Aberdeen because Mobridge does not have the space. He said the state has already purchased $4,000 in fuel at the Mobridge Airport this season.
Hermanson said he would go ahead and seek funding from the state and other entities for the project, which would begin in 2013, if the council approves the plan.
He said the city would be asked to supply an airport employee seven days a week for the firebase, at the hours the planes are allowed to fly. Tanker craft are not allowed to fly after dark, but in July and August the airport would need to be manned until about 9:30 p.m.
Mayor Jamie Dietterle said the council would consider the proposal.
“It sounds like a good plan for our community,” he told Hermanson. “We need to think about our budget and whether we will need to hire another employee and if the additional gas sales will pay for these extra hours.”
He requested Cain to review the land agreement needed between the city and state for the base and Hermanson to provide more information on the cost of the project and the funding when Hermanson gets approval from the other groups he approaches about the plan.
– Katie Zerr –