County sets budget at $10.2 million

Jason Ferguson
Custer County is set to spend around over $10 million in 2021, as its budget crests $10 million for the first time, should the budget pass its second reading later this month.
At the Sept. 2 meeting of the Custer County Commission, the commission unanimously passed the $10,232,738 provisional budget, with a second and final vote to take place later this month. The commission still has the option to make changes to the budget before final passage.
The $10 million figure is $315,000 more than the budget passed last year. Commissioners initially approved a provisional budget of $9,229,080 for 2020, but when the budget was finalized it was $9,917,739.
The general fund budget is provisionally set at $5,560,000, up from $4,955,573 a year ago. Special funds expenditures (highway department, building fund, emergency management, etc.) is penciled in for $4,394,344, up slightly from $4.2 million a year ago.
Most of the departments —though not all—are scheduled for an increase in expenditures, largely due to the rise in the “cost of doing business” in utilities, etc., while there is also a 2 percent wage increase for county employees figured into next year’s budget.
The most money to be spent by the county is for public safety and road maintenance, as it is each year. The sheriff’s office budget is set at nearly $1.3 million, while the highway and bridge budget is set at nearly $3.1 million. The provisional budget, which includes budgets for each of the county offices, etc., can be found on the legal notices pages in this issue.
If the budget remains as is, estimated levies are  3.643 for the general fund,  .602 for the courthouse fund, .850 for secondary roads and .293 for fire fighting, for a total of $5.338 per $1,000 of valuation. If they remain as is, all of the levies would be up from a year ago and total levies would be around 89 cents more per $1,000 in valuation.
Levies are based on using a Consumer Price Index (CPI) of 1.7 percent and growth. The county does not have to increase its levies by the full CPI and growth, so it is possible the aforementioned levies are still high estimates. The final levies are done by the end of September when the final budget is adopted.
The provisional budget includes a $500,000 infusion of cash reserves and more cash may be applied to the highway fund due to a decrease in Payment In Lieu of Taxes money from the federal government. Auditor Terri Cornelison told the commission it could also add more cash to the budget in an effort to keep levies, and by proxy taxes, as low as possible.
Cornelison told the commission the county is looking at having $4.8 million in unassigned cash, which means the county still has to assign $400,000 in order to be below the percentage threshold of unassigned monies required by state law. Last year the county had over $1 million in such money and spent several weeks assigning the money to various county entities.
In other news from the Sept. 2 meeting, the commission:
• Heard from county highway superintendent Jesse Doyle, who learned from commission chairman Jim Lintz he had received complaints from county residents that the recently refurbished portion of Sidney Park Road is “lumpy.”
Doyle said two spots on the road are transition points between injection sites for the full depth reclamation and chip and fog seal recently completed on a portion of the road.
Doyle said other than those two spots, he is pleased with how the project turned out, especially considering it was done for $380,000 for seven miles of road. Doyle said paving that same portion of road would have cost the county $3 million.
“We have a very good road, I feel,” he said.
Doyle said he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback on the road and Lintz said he thought the road turned out well. It will be striped in the near future and chip sealed again in three years.
• Learned the county was approved for a Homeland Security grant for two ATVs, one each for the sheriff’s office and search and rescue. However, it is tough sledding to find ATVs right now, as they have become scarce due to their skyrocketing popularity and lack of production, both attributed to COVID-19.
• Approved a letter for support for Friends of Wind Cave National Park to allow Wind Cave personnel and equipment to maintain 266th Street, a road outside the park that was recently constructed to access the Samson Ranch portion of the park. The one-mile stretch of road would be maintained by the park if proposed legislation is approved.
Don DeVries of Friends of Wind Cave said the road is “pretty much done” and that Friends members have been spraying weeds and taking care of minor erosion issues.
• Opened bids for the Custer County Library addition parking area paving and grading project. Rosebud Construction was the low bidder at $49,480 for the 5,150 square feet of parking lot. Rosebud’s bid calls for a six-inch slab of concrete to be laid, but the commission will negotiate to see the cost of a four-inch slab at 3,500 PSI, as county engineers believe that would be sufficient.
• Discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, with county emergency management director Mike Carter saying all of the first responders tested negative. He said first responders are still using full personal protective equipment when responding to calls and it would be recommended they get flu shots.
Carter said people need to remain vigilant, particularly with more large events such as the Buffalo Roundup happening soon.
Carter recommended the county continue with its recently-implemented screening process at the courthouse, as it is working well and there is no cause to suspend it at this time.
• Heard from Lintz, who said he was disappointed with the way S.D. State University Extension handled COVID-19, particularly with its cancellation of all 4-H activities.
“I think our kids got robbed of a full year of 4-H,” he said.
Lintz said a letter was drafted by county 4-H leaders to potentially send to SDSU expressing concern over the cancellation of 4-H activities, and said he would hate to see it happen again in 2021.
“I think it was a crime the way they shut it down completely,” he said.

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