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KATIE ZERR: Voters have important decisions to make

Voters across the country, in South Dakota and in Walworth County are facing important decisions on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
This mid-term election can change the course of our nation and state. It is of utmost importance that we make our voices heard at the ballot box.
Walworth County voters are being asked to vote in favor of a bond issue that will fund building a new law enforcement facility in Selby. It is a regional jail concept and will be supported, in part, by revenue from housing inmates from outside of the county.
I am a very strong supporter of law enforcement. I rarely voice an opinion that goes against the wishes of those who put their lives on the line to serve this community. This time I cannot in good conscious support this facility as it stands.
The regional jail concept is one that has merit. I have no problem with contracting with our neighboring counties to house prisoners. I do have a problem asking Walworth County taxpayers to take all of the risk when it comes to paying for this facility.
Proponents say revenue from housing inmates outside of Walworth County will pay for the facility. They can’t guarantee that will happen. They say the projected income would pay for the annual bond payment. What they don’t say is that projected operational costs, estimated at $2.2 million, will be the responsibility of the taxpayers of this county. The county auditor has strongly warned commissioners that the county cannot afford the operational cost of the new facility.
The budget for the jail we have now has increased exponentially every year and has doubled in the past five years. In 2016 the jail budget was $852,425. In 2018 it was $1,078,399.
Even with outside income, the jail has operated at a loss in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2016, when the inmate revenue was the highest at $853,683, the net loss was $358,819.
We have spent $103,790 since 2014 on consultants and architects. The final project presented to the public was not well thought out, not well planned and not well presented. No alternatives were presented. The transportation issue was not well explored. The conflicting cost estimates were confusing.
Any project that has this price tag needs to have full support of the county officials. The divided commission and conflicting cost estimates do not help this project. The “my way or the highway” attitude that has permeated this issue is disheartening and not fair to the taxpayers.
In other election issues, there are several issues on the ballot that are steeped in outside influence.
Constitutional Amendment W and Initiated Measure 24 are two ballot issues that could cause problems for South Dakotans and will likely be challenged in court.
With Amendment W, the Constitution of South Dakota will be changed to include an ethics branch of government. Again, this is something that goes beyond what is needed and is a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that has long been a part of South Dakota’s one-party rule in the state. When there are no checks and balances from opposing parties, power can corrupt.
But forming an ethics branch, with fewer checks and balances is not the way to fix this. Working with the three branches of government already in place is the answer. That means more pressure on legislators to make necessary changes, not creating more government.
The concept of IM 24 is to help protect the system that allows referendums and measures to appear on the ballot from the influence of out-of-state interests. South Dakota has long been a test case spot for issues and measures because of the ease of getting these issues before the voters.
Although this issue sounds like it is protecting us, it may be unconstitutional. I will put my faith in the common sense of our citizenry on these types of issues. We can make the choice and filter out the outside influences.
Initiated Measure 25 is battleground for outside influences. There are many people interested in this issue. From tobacco companies to higher education, many are watching this unfold.
I am always cautious when it comes to creating another tax. I don’t like asking people to pay more without getting clear answers as to why. Why is tuition to our tech schools so high compared those of surrounding states? Has there been a clear and present need for this increase other than anecdotal information on campaign ads? Shouldn’t these questions be addressed before we create a new tax?
I am also cautious when it comes to making changes to our constitution, as is the basis for Amendments X and Z. Although our system doesn’t seem to be broken beyond repair on these issues, these amendments are said to fix certain problems.
With Amendment X, the percent of the popular vote to approve an amendment on the ballot would be increased to 55 percent or more of a majority. This smells of pushing the favor of certain issues that have been a close vote in the past, to one side or the other.
Amendment Z is touted as a protection for voters. Its backers say they want to help voters with confusing measures with multiple facets. This has caused problems in the past, but again, my faith is in South Dakotans. This measure tries to protect us from being an informed public. I believe that we don’t need this protection. We need to be more informed.
These measures seemed to be a “back to the drawing board” vote. – Katie Zerr-