The city of Mitchell opened the floodgates to Lyft drivers.

The Mitchell City Council was given a crash course on the Lyft ride-sharing service Monday night at City Hall shortly before approving a taxicab license for new Lyft driver Thomas Schaffner.

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Before approving the taxicab license, the Mitchell City Council heard some input from a local taxi service owner in opposition of the decision. The license was approved in a 7-1 vote, with Councilman Mel Olson voting against the license.

Art Streetman, owner of five E-Z Ride Taxi cabs, said Mitchell isn’t “big enough for Lyft.” Streetman said himself and two other businesses would likely fold if Lyft comes to town.

“I just think that the city’s got to take a stand. Either say, ‘No, we don’t want Lyft here,’ ” Streetman said. “It’s going to be up to you guys to decide this, whether they come or not. And if they do come, you’re going to put my business, and I’m sure two other businesses, out of business.”

As the lone vote against the Lyft license, Olson said after the meeting he was concerned a flood of Lyft drivers might only be active at night. That, he said, could limit taxi availability for an older resident to find a taxi during the day.

Lyft is similar to a taxi service, but a customer hails the cab through an app on their smartphone and pays with a credit card. And according to Mitchell City Attorney Justin Johnson, the only difference between a taxi service and Lyft is that the company provides insurance when their driver has a fare, and there’s no need for a commercial license plate on the Lyft vehicle.

Streetman also asked if the city could put a cap on the amount of taxis, a question which Councilwoman Susan Tjarks turned to Johnson.

“I would be hesitant to take that route,” Johnson said, but noted the council has the authority to set a cap.

Council President Steve Rice was quick to motion for approval of the license, saying the city shouldn’t regulate who gets to conduct business.

“And my reasoning is this, I don’t believe it’s government’s job to keep anybody in business or put anyone in business,” Rice said.

Prior to the vote, Schaffner said his intention isn’t to put folks like Streetman out of business.

“It’s just something to do on downtime and off time, I’m not trying to put anybody out of business,” Schaffner said.

Since it’s only a part-time gig for Schaffner, Streetman offered a proposition.

“If you want a part-time job, I’m hiring,” Streetman said.

There have been two drivers, at least, in Mitchell. Assistant Police Chief Mike Koster told the council that the drivers were contacted and made aware of the city’s guidelines.

“We just let them know that until they’ve complied with the ordinance, that they’re not legally driving in the city,” Koster said.

A previous Daily Republic article incorrectly stated the per-minute rate for Lyft drivers in South Dakota. The correct per minute rate is 25 cents.

Water rate rise

Mitchell residents will see an 80-cent per unit water rate rise as soon as April 1.

The increase, according to a staff report from City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein, would “ensure that the revenue generated from the water service is covering both the operational costs of the system as well as the planned capital improvement needs identified in the Water Plan Study.”

The current rate is $3.10 per unit with a base rate of $3, with 1 unit equalling 750 gallons of water. The new rate will be $3.90 per unit, and the base rate will stay the same.

Mayor Jerry Toomey spoke in favor of the increase, citing a city report showing Mitchell’s water rates would rest at the middle of the pack compared to other South Dakota cities.

“So we’re not going to be the lowest, and we’re not going to be the highest,” Toomey said, noting that everything on the city’s five-year water and infrastructure plan would be pushed back.

According to the staff report, Mitchell’s 2017 rates were the lowest by $3.02 in the state’s larger cities for use of 6,000 gallons. With the rate increase, Mitchell would have been closer to the top, with only Deadwood, Brandon, Sturgis, Brookings, Harrisburg and Yankton with higher rates. With the approval, Huron, Chamberlain, Vermillion, Spearfish, Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, Pierre and Watertown would have lower water costs.

The increase is the fourth since 2008, according to the report. It will raise the average monthly bill by a few dollars per month for a family of four.

Palace protection

As part of the consent agenda Monday night, the Mitchell City Council unanimously approved a plan to apply for Homeland Security grant funds to purchase metal detectors for the Corn Palace.

The Palace serves as the city’s main event center, hosting concerts and sporting events, as well as rodeos and more. And in December, Corn Palace Director Scott Schmidt told The Daily Republic the added security measure for well-attended concerts would be “one extra step for precautionary measures.” Also in December, Davison County Emergency Management Administrator Jeff Bathke said “it’s a great idea.”

At the time, however, Schmidt suggested metal detectors would be used for concerts rather than basketball games or other similar events.

In Schmidt’s staff report, he wrote that 100 percent of the costs could be covered, and there’s no money budgeted for the item. If it’s not 100 percent funded, the item would come back before the council.

Also according to his report, the security upgrades would be implemented for the Corn Palace Festival in late August.

Consent agenda

The council approved the following items on the consent agenda:

  • Minutes from the previous City Council meeting and Planning Commission minutes.
  • Raffle permits for Gertie Belle Rogers PTA, with a drawing to be held March 24; Mitchell Skating and Hockey Association and state boys JV tournament, with a drawing to be held March 3 or 4; American Legion Post 18, with the drawing to be held April 29; Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2570, with the drawing to be held when the tickets are sold; and the Mitchell Lions Club, with a drawing to be held April 21.
  • Change Order No. 5 to Mitchell Aquatics Center city project No. 2016-11 to Puetz Construction. This change would allow for the purchase of upgraded starter blocks for the competitive pool facility. The $5,918 cost is being paid by the Mitchell Aquatic Club.
  • Property tax abatements for 2017 taxes payable in 2018.
  • Authorization of the purchase of a used 2013 D6 Caterpillar Dozer for City Project No. 2018-19 off the NJPA Used Equipment Contract. The current 1991 D5 Dozer in the landfill fleet will be put up for sale. Expected sale price is between $20,000 and $30,000.
  • Quotes for salvage scrap metal.
  • Pay estimates, bills, payroll, salary adjustments, new employee hires and the authorization of recurring and other expenses in advance as approved by the finance officer.
Other business

In other business, the council:

  • Called the meeting to order, conducted the Pledge of Allegiance and conducted roll call. There was no invocation or citizen input.
  • Held the second reading and adopted Ordinance No. O2018-01, which changes the zoning district classification of the real property in the Mitchell Landfill First Addition.
  • Approved Gary and Marge Schlaffman’s application for a conditional use permit and variance to replace 11 billboards and increase the size.
  • Approved H&R Salvage, LLC’s request to haul garbage in the city of Mitchell.
  • Authorized the replacement of a boiler in the public safety facility utilizing contingency funds.
  • Approved a Cadwell Stadium light fixtures and bulbs project.
  • Approved No. A2018-03 James Valley Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force joint powers agreement.
  • Approved agreement No. A2018-06 South Dakota Public Assurance Alliance intergovernmental contract.
  • Approved Resolution No. R2018-06, a Plat of Lot 7 in the replat of tract E, Wild Oak Golf Club Addition, city of Mitchell, Davison County, South Dakota.
  • Approved resolution No. R2018-07, approval of local infrastructure program grant agreement and authorizing the execution of related documents for the grant.
  • Approved agreement No. A2018-04, an agreement for engineering services for East Havens Avenue water loop for Performance Pet.
  • Approved Ordinance No. O2018-02 on first reading, amending section 7-8-3 (C) of the Mitchell City Code regarding the riding of bicycles, skateboards or inline skates on sidewalks. The ordinance would bar bicycles, skateboards or inline skates at the veterans park on First Avenue and Main Street.
  • Adoption of Ordinance O2017-17, amending sidewalk snow and ice removal. The council decided to remove snow on sidewalks where the adjacent property owner is more than 40 feet away. The main street impacted by the change is Burr Street. The city would clear sidewalks along Burr Street under the ordinance for 2018 and 2019. The ordinance will need to come back before the council on second reading with amended language.
  • Entered into executive session in SDCL 1-25-2 (5) “discussing marketing or pricing strategies by a board or commission of a business owned by the state or any of its political subdivisions, where public discussions would be harmful to the competitive position of the business” and SDCL 1-25-2 (4) for “preparing for contract negotiations or negotiating with employees or employee representatives.” No action was taken after the session.