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OPINION: Going broke

The second week of the Legislature continued with all committees meeting and several passing out bills while intermixed with the briefings that are presented by all the state agencies to their respective committees.

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The second week of the Legislature continued with all committees meeting and several passing out bills while intermixed with the briefings that are presented by all the state agencies to their respective committees.

In Education Committee, we heard from the Board of Regents and the technical schools. In Ag and Natural Resources, we had the annual briefings from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture and Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, the state veterinarian. There have been several bills that came out of the summer study on county government, of which I was a part, and those bills have been working their way through the Local Government and State Affairs committees.

As you may have read, I was a co-sponsor of the bill that would have allowed counties to impose a sales tax for the purpose of funding county government. I became a co-sponsor on this bill simply by voting for the proposal in the summer committee.

While I was not a supporter of this particular bill, I voted for the proposal during the summer because we heard hours of testimony dealing with the counties and the numerous and quite varied problems they face. I wanted other members of the Legislature to become aware of the issues due to the shortage of funding, but no shortage of state-mandated responsibilities.

There are counties in this state that face going completely broke within five years, and when and if that occurs, what will have to happen? Article 13, section 4, of the South Dakota Constitution limits a county's indebtedness to 5 percent of the assessed valuation.

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Counties' main sources of financial pain are court costs, law enforcement, jails and roads. These are all vital and appropriate functions of government to keep us all safe. The reasons for these hardships the counties face are, as I mentioned before, varied.

Out west, the extremely rural counties, like Jackson, face a shortage of property tax funds because a large majority of the county is held in tribal land. On the eastern side, Lincoln County is slowly being consumed by the municipality of Sioux Falls, and its property tax isn't enough to keep up with the burden of a rapidly growing population.

We as a state face some serious problems with county government that will have to be solved soon. Those solutions are, of course, the subject of debate. Some want a 1 percent sales tax increase split between counties, and education; others are saying we need to consolidate and combine counties because we no longer need courthouses 15 miles apart. My guess would be that the solution will probably have to contain portions of each proposal, and neither one will be very popular.

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