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Commissioners cover wide range of topics in April meeting

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It took Potter county commissioners over three hours during the April Fool’s Day meeting to discuss roads, the extension service, 911 dispatch, property taxes, and drivers licenses.
Estimates on the cost of road upkeep was presented by highway superintendent Steve Smith, who also impressed the urgency in which the roads need attention.
Commissioner Bill Arbach asked if the highway department could find some type of surplus patching paving equipment to use on the roads that would allow the county to maintain and patch, especially County Road 155 (Old Hwy 83) north of Gettysburg. Smith said that Potter County has 32 miles of paved roads, and the entire mile on the north end of the road needs repair, which would cost roughly $100,000 just for the asphalt. He explained that the base of the road is in bad shape. Smith drove the road that morning and said it was easy to see the holes and cracks, and a plan needs to be in place to do something with it. It was agreed that returning it to gravel is the cheapest way, and Arbach said that if the holes are filled, that it will make the people driving it happy.
Commissioner Randy Simon suggested that work be done on the first mile of the north part of the road, and then plan to work on a mile each year. Smith said that it is hard to find somebody to come out and do just a mile of road, and they would rather do several miles at a time.
Arbach again suggested that they put $60,000 into a machine to help with the road work surface paving.  Smith reiterated that the surface isn’t the problem, but rather the base underneath the road. They agreed that it is necessary to mill it in order to repair it correctly, but Arbach said that the taxpayers did not want that. Smith said that the problem will not be solved until the base is fixed with a full depth reclamation, which is 10 inch deep milling  plus gravel at a cost of around $23,000 per mile.
He added that they could spend $100,000 a year and not solve the problems, and not all the patches are working.
The cost to return the 16 miles of road to gravel would save the county approximately $1 million over a nine year period. He told the board again that they need to be aware that the road needs something done to it.
Communication was discussed, and Smith said that two way radios would be more efficient for the highway crew. They have tried “push to talk” cell phones but the coverage was not good. Twelve radios would be needed for the blades, trucks, and loaders. He will check on the cost.
The commissioners were told that obstruction in right-of-ways, from trees to mailboxes, are a liability to the county. People are complaining about trees in the ditches causing a problem when trying to move large equipment. Smith started collecting estimates for removing the large cottonwood trees in right-of-ways. He said there are around 50 huge cottonwoods in the right-of-ways and it would be dangerous for the county crew to do the removal. They could remove small ones, but the large ones are bigger than the county’s equipment could do efficiently, since stumps would need to be removed and ground up. The problem is that farming equipment is too large to get past them; combines hit them, drills hit them, and big planters can’t get past them.
Simon said that if the trees aren’t dead, he would rather see someone in a bucket trim them up, but Smith said that it doesn’t remove the hazard. Simon said that the hazard has been there for 60 years, and Commissioner Delvin Worth said that if the trees are up by the shoulder of the road he could see a need for removal, but if they are down in the middle of the ditch or close to the fence line, there didn’t seem to be much need to spend the money for removal. Arbach suggested that they be trimmed, but Smith again cited safety, saying he would not send his crew up in a bucket with a chain saw for tree removal when there are companies trained for that type of work.
There was discussion about a complaint from Kevin Kilian during the previous meeting regarding the lack of snow removal to his driveway. Pictures were provided during that meeting which showed that the roadway was not blocked and the road was clear and passable.
Cindi Forgey, the county director of equalization, met with the board to report on property that had appealed their taxes and will be discussed through the equalization boards.  She said that every house in Gettysburg, Tolstoy, Hoven, and Lebanon went up 15% and that was to bring them up to 87% of market. She said the state wanted it set at 90%, but she was not going to raise them higher than 15%. That is dictated by the sales of homes county-wide.
Sheriff Curt Hamburger reported that he and the city officer were out during the blizzard the previous night pulling people out of snow in the storm, along with assistance from the county highway department. He also talked about the yearly agreement with the emergency 911 dispatch in Mobridge. He told of a complaint that an emergency call was made from Hoven and no one answered. It was reminded that it takes a few seconds to connect any phone call, especially when panicked, and that  Hoven does not like to use the 911 service. The sheriff added that one of the main troubles is getting the different agencies to use the radios and let them know if they are en route or on the scene. People sometimes call the police directly with their cell phones, and they need to let someone know what they are doing. He stressed the importance of using the radios and the central location of the 911 dispatch service so the calls are recorded and available for liability reasons.
The sheriff said that regarding the drivers licenses, that his department is not able to keep up with the workload between emergency management and regular secretarial duties and asked that the commissioners consider moving it to a different location. In 2013, the sheriff’s office did 251 licenses.
In other news, it was voted by the commission to approve a liquor license for Brown’s Lodge. Holly Wright and Renee Kirby were re-appointed to the library board.
The assistant at the extension office has resigned, and Arbach felt it might be a good opportunity to shut it down. Commissioner Bruce Williams said it as important to keep the county’s veteran service office, which is located in the same space. Falyn Hogg, representing the extension office, met to discussed the need for a staff, and that office. It was determined that a new person in the extension service will work fewer hours and also conduct drivers license exams. There are still plans for the FFA swine project to be part of the fair.
The minutes of the meeting are available online at www.pottercountynews.com or www.sdpublicnotices.com. They were published in the April 10 edition of the News.
-Molly McRoberts

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