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Council halts two taxi licenses to start 2019

Mitchell City Hall. (Matt Gade / Republic)

In its first meeting of 2019, the Mitchell City Council dealt with more taxi service concerns Monday night, putting the end to one service's bid to renew its license and putting a second under more scrutiny for alleged tax concerns.

The council, meeting in regular session Monday at City Hall, put an end to Speedy Taxi after hearing testimony from local authorities and the business owner of the controversial taxi service, unanimously deciding to deny the license request for 2019. The council also delayed the renewal of the license for Lori's Lift, which is under state investigation about operating without a tax license.

Speedy Taxi owner Wayne Feistner spoke to the council, asking why he wasn't notified of the council's Dec. 17 decision to let the taxi license expire.

"Doesn't anybody here send out a notice of letting the license expire, because how am I supposed to know that," Feistner asked.

Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson countered Feistner's question, asking the taxi owner why he submitted a renewal if he wasn't aware of the council's decision to let the license expire.

During the Dec. 17 council meeting, Dustin Feistner, the son of Wayne, was listed as the owner of Speedy Taxi.

Following Wayne Fesitner's inquiry on why he wasn't notified of the council deciding to let the taxi license expire, Mitchell Chief of Public Safety Lyndon Overweg interjected and said Dustin Feistner was specifically notified that his license was not renewed from the council's Dec. 17 decision.

Assistant Police Chief Mike Koster spoke to the council about how he personally informed Dustin Feistner on Dec. 31, reminding him that he was not to be operating after midnight.

Council member Marty Barington said there were some reports of the two taxi services operating after midnight on New Year's Eve, which was the day the license officially expired.

"Aside from public hearsay, is there any proof that he (Feistner) was operating after midnight," Barington asked Koster.

Koster responded to Barington's question, informing the council that a local police officer had reportedly witnessed Dustin Feistner picking a patron up in his Speedy Taxi van in front of Thirsty's Bar and Lounge on Jan. 6, 2019.

"One of the officers did observe Mr. Feistner's vehicle pull up in front and saw a transaction of some sort inside of the vehicle," Koster said to the council.

Wayne Feistner then confirmed his son was accepting tips, but noted his son was not charging for rides after the Jan. 1, 2019 license expiration. Overweg said accepting tips is a violation of the law.

"Accepting compensation of pay in any form is a violation of the law, even tips," Overweg told Wayne Feistner, who claimed he wasn't aware of that law.

Following the lengthy discussion of Speedy Taxi, council member Dan Allen put the discussion to rest, making the motion to deny the license application, with Susan Tjarks casting the second as the council voted 8-0 to deny the application, putting an end to the controversial taxi service.

The next taxi license request for 2019 was Lori's Lift, a local taxi service that came under scrutiny from Koster, who told the council that owner Lori Claussen violated the law by operating her taxi service without a state sales tax license for almost an entire calendar year.

Koster said the revelation regarding Claussen's tax license surfaced from an investigation by the Mitchell Police Division, prompting the city to contact the state Department of Revenue to look into the matter.

"The Department of Revenue said that she applied for a state sales tax license on Oct. 4, 2018, and the first time Ms. Claussen was given a permit by the council to operate as a taxi cab was at the council meeting on Oct. 16, 2017," Koster said.

Koster said Claussen's first van was inspected Oct. 19, 2017, and she was effectively in business after the 2017 inspection, but the Department of Revenue had no record of a sales tax license until Claussen applied for it on Oct. 4, 2018, which is a criminal offense.

"We're asking that she not be renewed based on criminal behavior," Koster said to the council.

Koster also informed the council about another incident in September, where Claussen took a group of passengers to Grand Falls Casino in Iowa, and photos of passengers with open containers of alcohol surfaced on social media. According to Koster, Claussen did not have a license to serve alcohol at the time of the alleged incident, which he said the state's attorney's office is investigating.

Upon further discussion after Koster's testimony, the council voted to table the decision until the next city council meeting on Jan. 22, when the council will allow Claussen to address the issues that were presented during Monday's meeting.

"Lori will be able to come in and answer some questions in front of the council, so I will make that motion to table," Everson said.

Bridge grant for Harmon Drive discussed

The Mitchell City Council addressed the structural repairs for the Canal Bridge on North Harmon Drive and approved the submitted application for a South Dakota Bridge Improvement Grant (BIG), which is estimated to cost $267,610. The city of Mitchell has committed to paying 20 percent of the total cost, which would be $53,522.

According to Mitchell Public Works Director Kyle Croce, removing and resetting the prestressed concrete double tees, along with replacing the 12 by 12 foot timber caps, are two major reparations the canal bridge will undergo.

Consent agenda

The following items were approved at once as part of the consent agenda:

• The minutes of the Dec. 26 special council meeting regarding the 5G small cell facility ordinance, and the Dec. 17 sidewalk committee meeting.

• The following raffle permits: Mitchell Skating and Hockey Association with the drawings to be held at all of their home league games; Mitchell Area Safehouse Foundation with the drawing to be held on March 29, 2019; Post 18, The American Legion with the drawing to be held on April 27, 2019; Pheasants Forever Pheasant Country with the drawing to be held on October 19, 2019.

• Recognize The Daily Republic as the official newspaper for the city of Mitchell in 2019.

• Set the date for the following hearing: Jan. 21 for the application of Los 3 Amigos, LLC for a retail (on-off sale) malt beverage license located at 1522 W. Havens (video lottery excluded) on the application of Los 3 Amigos, LLC for a retail (on-off sale) wine license located at 1522 W. Havens (video lottery excluded).

• 2019 new taxi license applications for Jesse Parker's Lyft and Tim Goldammer.

• Change order No. 1: East Havens water main loop city project No. 2018-25 to Menning Backhoe LLC.

• Approved January 7 pay estimates.

• Approved bills, payroll, salary adjustments and new employee hires and authorize payment of recurring and other expenses as approved by the finance officer.

Other business

The council also:

• Recited the Pledge of allegiance and invocation by Grace Baptist Church.

• Heard citizens input.

• Approved the official depositories for the city of Mitchell for 2019.

• Held a hearing and approved the application to transfer retail (on-sale) liquor license MG Oil Company doing business as EZ$ Pub, 1801 North Main Street, Suites 3-6, Mitchell to MG Oil Company doing business as EZ$ Pub/Village Bowl, 1500 North Duff Street, Suite F, Mitchell.

• Met for about 1 hour and 30 minutes in executive session, but took no action. Everson said the session was regarding the city's relationship with the Mitchell Skating and Hockey Association.