Fischer charges gerrymandering; county proceeds with redrawing of districtsDistrict 2 Commissioner Jerry Fischer’s protests grew more strident Tuesday as he leveled charges of gerrymandering in the redrawing of county commission districts.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
District 2 Commissioner Jerry Fischer’s protests grew more strident Tuesday as he leveled charges of gerrymandering in the redrawing of county commission districts.
“You’re taking away population I need,” Fischer, a Democrat, told fellow commissioners and Auditor Susan Kiepke.
Fischer spoke out during the Davison County commissioners’ meeting at the courthouse.
“I wasn’t going to bring this up, but by God, this is gerrymandering, that’s what it is. … You’re taking a lot of Democrats and moving them away from my district.”
“Gerrymandering” is the moving of political boundaries for political benefit.
The county districts are being rebalanced following information gleaned from the 2010 census. New lines are needed to accurately reflect city growth areas to the northwest and east, said Kiepke, who laid out the new lines with the assistance of Planning and Development District III GIS Coordinator Harry Redman, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting. She denied any political motives.
Under the current proposal, Fischer’s northern boundary will be moved from Sixth Avenue to Fourth Avenue. Areas east of Calhoun Street also will be added, as well as areas south of Interstate 90 and west of Main Street.
The eastern areas are currently represented by District 4 Commissioner Denny Kiner. Fischer said he received numerous calls from residents saying they prefer to remain in Kiner’s district.
The new lines were drawn to concur with Mitchell city wards, Auditor Susan Kiepke said.
Changing them would require the production of multiple ballots during an election, she said, which is confusing for voters.
No other commissioner — including District 3 Commissioner Gerald Weiss, also a Democrat — has charged political bias.
“I don’t think politics should be brought into this,” Weiss said. “If people don’t like you, they’re going to vote you out.”
Kiner agreed and said the moving lines cut both ways.
“If a registered Democrat gets added to my district, it affects me as much as you,” he told Fischer.
Commission chairman John Claggett, who represents District 5, said he sees no political intent or advantage.
Claggett said his research shows the gerrymandering cuts both ways. It can be used to change boundaries for political advantage, but it also can be used to maintain the power of an incumbent, which might be charged if the commissioners comply with Fischer’s demands.
“That would be incumbentprotection gerrymandering,” Claggett said.
Redman tweaked several lines on the interactive election map but was unable to offer another option that would keep the number of people in each commission district within 10 percent of each other. If perfectly balanced, each commission district would have 3,901 residents.
By meeting’s end, Fischer was ready to admit defeat and approve the proposed map of districts. Claggett deferred that decision until next week, when the commission will have a full board. Commissioner David Weitala was away on family business and did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.
Kiepke told the commissioners that delays in the treasurer’s office are spilling over into her operations. Kiepke said she didn’t receive Treasurer Brenda Sanders’ October reports by Oct. 1 and got them instead on Oct. 8.
But Sanders said her shorthanded office had a “stressful October,” and problems reconciling accounts required help from Roger Schnabel from the state Auditor’s Office.
Sanders said the error was caused by a tax erroneously paid in April for the wrong property.
She said Schnabel also developed a more streamlined spreadsheet that will speed end-of-month reconciliations, Sanders said.
Sanders said later that Kiepke’s Oct. 1 deadline is unrealistic.
Weiss, weary of courthouse squabbling, called for more teamwork between offices.
Director of Equalization Kathy Goetsch told the commissioners that small businesses and other commercial enterprises must file building permits in order to take full advantage of the county’s discretionary taxation formula.
The formula offers reduced taxation over a period of five years for qualifying new agricultural or commercial structures or additions.
It reduces the costs for businesses in startup years or following significant capital investment in new buildings or renovations.
For the first year under the discretionary formula, a property would be taxed at 20 percent of a structure’s value for an 80 percent exemption. In years two to four, that same property would be taxed at 40, 60 and 80 percent, and would be 100 percent taxable in the fifth year.
Project minimums for the formula are non-residential renovations, $10,000 or higher; new business structures, $30,000 or more; and ag structures, $10,000 or more.
The commissioners passed a motion requiring that all qualifying properties must also meet all requirements set forth by respective taxing entities for building permits and zoning requirements.
That means, Goetsch said, that an individual cannot apply for the discretionary tax break years later.
“Our office needs some indication so we’ll know when to give the credit,” she said. “If there’s no building permit, we don’t get notified and no tax credit is given.”
In other business, the commissioners:
• Approved the purchase of triple bagger/blower system for a county lawnmower, from Sioux International, Sioux Falls, at a cost of $2,058. The machine will speed leaf cleanup at the county’s Public Safety Building.
The commissioners also authorized Maintenance Supervisor Mark Ruml to purchase a used Cub Cadet mower for the county fairgrounds for an amount not to exceed $1,500.
• Briefly reviewed proposals for phone, data and cable service from Midcontinent Communications, CenturyLink and Mitchell Telecom.
Under terms of a requestfor-proposal sent to the providers by county consultant Ramon Shultz, of Tech Solutions Midco priced its package at $1,975 a month with $2,000 in installation fees; CenturyLink (minus a quote of cable) at $1,826 a month with $2,840 in installation fees; and Mitchell Telecom quoted monthly fees of $1,002.75 and waived installation fees.
Shultz also reviewed the advantages of off-site hosted e-mail systems. No decision was made.
• Approved contingency transfers totaling $182,129, which includes $49,264 for the Sheriff’s Office; $125,000 for the jail ($70,000 for medicine and $55,000 for overtime), and $3,865 for the county coroner.
• Sitting as the Board of Adjustment, approved a variance in lot size of 18 acres to create a 7-acre lot on property owned by Mark Meier in Mount Vernon. Ryan Jensen, who attended the meeting, said he plans to build a home on the lots.
County zoning requires 25 acres for such a building site. Variances have been granted in the past to farm owners who want building sites for their children. This is believed to be the first instance when the board allowed a subdivision as part of a private sale.
The commissioners voted 4-0 to approve it.
• At the recommendation of Highway Superintendent Rusty Weinberg, deleted from the county road system a halfmile of 253rd Street near Mount Vernon. The section of road will be maintained by the city.
• Approved the expenditure of $10,008 for a reflectometer to make certain future signage complies with new federal standards for sign reflectivity. The instrument also contains a GPS system that notes the location of each sign.