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Davison County seeks disaster declaration

Members of the Davison County Commission unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday asking Gov. Mike Rounds to declare Davison County a disaster area because of persistent drought conditions.

Members of the Davison County Commission unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday asking Gov. Mike Rounds to declare Davison County a disaster area because of persistent drought conditions.

The single-page resolution uses data supplied by the county Farm Service Agency to back up the request for relief.

Curtis Fox, executive director of the Davison County FSA, said a federal disaster declaration would make farmers affected by the drought eligible for emergency loans to cover losses not covered by insurance.

"The rate on those loans is usually lower than the prevailing market rate," said Fox.

He said a disaster declaration also kicks into place Internal Revenue Service tax rules that would help farmers who have been forced to sell livestock because of drought conditions.

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The USDA Flash Situation Report, used to support the declaration, states that from July 1, 2005, to the present, area precipitation was 58 percent of normal. It also said that from April 1 of this year to June 1, precipitation was 60 percent of normal, and since July 1, precipitation is less than 1 percent of normal.

The report also estimates a 40 percent loss for 58,221 acres of planted corn in the tassel stage of growth and a 35 percent loss for soybeans in the flowering stage. Alfalfa and grass hay losses were estimated at 50 percent.

Tuesday's drought resolution makes Davison the 12th East River county to request disaster designation. Turner County has requested that designation because of hail.

About 12 West River counties have requested a disaster designation.

In other business, commissioners:

n Approved a provisional general fund budget of about $6.5 million for 2007. Auditor Kathy Goetsch said commissioners will work to reduce that number, "though," she said, "it's getting harder and harder each year to make those cuts." Goetsch noted that the budget for weed chemicals alone jumped from $25,000 to $40,000. "It's tough to make cuts when prices are rising that fast," she said.

n Heard from Highway Superintendent Duane Zard, who said that rocketing oil prices are squeezing his budget. The county has a $2.2 million county road and bridge provisional budget for 2007.

Zard estimated that his department will be about $90,000 short for completing 22 miles of chip and seal road surfacing. Commission Chairwoman Carol Millan said, "That's a 40 percent increase when we're limited to a tax raise of just 3 percent."

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"Road oil was about $280 a ton this spring," added Zard."It's about $500 now and they estimate it will go up to $650 a ton next year."

Zard said further hikes would severely limit the county's ability to complete scheduled projects. He said the county might have to reduce the number of its oil roads and pave just main arteries if costs for paving materials continue to rise.

n Voted to raise the county's contingency budget from $289,000 to $300,000 for 2007.

n Asked State's Attorney Pat Smith to make legal expertise more regularly available. "We shouldn't have to meet without legal advice present," said Millan.

Smith said his department has a workload quadruple that of other counties and is set to break another record in criminal filings. "It's the first time I've heard the problem," said Smith. He said his office has always responded in a timely fashion to commission requests for legal services.

A sore point with commissioners was Smith's recent support of law officers who want to have DUI blood draws done at the county jail rather than Avera Queen of Peace Hospital. Smith said the system would allow him to get his evidence more quickly. Commissioner Dick Ziegler said commissioners needed clearer legal advice on a new state law concerning blood draws, as well as better statistical information that would allow the board to make a more informed decision. "We got such little data when confronted with this," complained Ziegler. Commissioners decided that blood draws will be done at the hospital until further notice.

Smith told commissioners that his court schedule is changing but he will "make a more concerted effort to be present at meetings."

n Set 9 a.m. Aug. 22 as the date to open bids on renovations to heating and control systems at the County Public Safety building. All bids for the project are due by 5 p.m. Aug. 21.

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n Briefly discussed the continuing and rising cost of county indigent medical claims. Welfare Director Steve McClure, who attended a recent seminar on bankruptcies, said he found the program informative. Counties cannot file liens against an individual after that person files for bankruptcy protection. But State's Attorney Smith said poor relief liens filed prior to a bankruptcy can survive that bankruptcy. Commissioner Bernie Schmucker said the information made clear the importance of filing liens in a timely manner.

Commissioners want Avera Queen of Peace Hospital to make a more concerted effort to collect medical debts before referring them to the county.

n Discharged a $22,179 lien because of the death of the debtor.

Meeting as the Board of Adjustment, commissioners:

n Unanimously approved a request by Darwin Kreth for a 20-foot setback variance from the required 75-foot setback requirement from his eastern property line. The variance will allow Kreth to construct a grain bin. Planning commissioners voted 7-0 on July 11 to recommend approval.

n Unanimously approved a request from Bluestem LLC for a conditional use permit for an animal feeding operation for 2,400 animal units (3,400 sows, 1,600 gilts 12 pounds to 300 pounds). The property is in the northeast quarter of Section 6, in Beulah Township. The project meets all setback requirements and no variances are required.

Luke Minion of the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic, who will handle on-site management at the new facility, said the feedlot would employ 10 full-time and two to five part-time employees. The project will have a $500,000 annual payroll and pay wages of $9 to $15 an hour, and full benefits.

Nearly 20 attended the public hearing on the matter and most supported the new venture. Neighbor Jerry Wadleigh, who lives about a mile distant and is closest to the new hog confinement, expressed his concerns for water quality.

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"Some people say it's not a large operation," he said, "but it's a concern to me and my family."

Wadleigh is also concerned about potential smells and the effect the project might have on his property values.

Todd Van Maanen, of Eisenbraun and Associates, the project engineer, said the continuously ventilated deep pit composting system greatly reduced smells. Dead animals also would be composted he said, a method that's proven more efficient and sanitary. Commissioners denied Koch's request to revisit the issues at a future date.

Commissioner Millan recommended approval with the following conditions: that all applicable permits be secured from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources; that necessary water rights permits be secured; that commissioners be supplied with a list of the names, addresses and phone numbers of Bluestem LLC's board of directors and management; that commissioners be supplied with a list of any citations issued to anyone associated with the company for air, soil and water quality violations; that a sign be erected outside the facility with the name of the company, its management and a phone number so those with concerns may contact company; and that area wells be tested prior to the company starting business so a benchmark for water quality can be set prior to opening.

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