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County funding options advanced to lawmakers

SDPB Flickr

South Dakota county governments, from the bustling Minnehaha County Courthouse to the more tranquil Harding County, are hurting for cash. In turn, funding proposals for counties were heard in front of the legislature’s executive board this week.

County funding and services were the topic of a legislative summer study this year, which presented its work and recommendations to the E-Board Tuesday.

On one hand, county governments are prohibited from collecting some taxes. Rep. Roger Chase said considering the legwork the counties already do, that’s a problem.

“For years and years counties have hired directors of equalizations, auditors and treasurers’ offices to collect and determine how much property taxes are going to be derived in the county, and they receive nothing for that," Chase said. "Considering how many man hours go into making sure property is assessed properly and just administering the overall property tax program, we felt it was only fair that they would be able to collect a small fee.”

Importantly, that was framed as an administrative fee to cover salaries rather than a tax increase.

Also on the table are options like changing the distribution of state liquor taxes to include county governments. Under the current system, the state general fund receives half of a roughly 18-million-dollar yearly revenue source, the other half going to counties and municipalities. Rep. Chase said the counties are on the front lines of substance use.

“Many times counties have court-appointed attorney costs that are related to alcohol abuse," Chase said. "So, lets look at where the source of the problem is, overuse of alcohol, so we felt it would be appropriate to switch that from 25 to 50 percent to the counties – leaving still 25 percent to the state.”

Finally, cybersecurity continues to grow in importance as technology advances, but the board isn’t sure county governments have kept pace.

“When I visited with the counties I visited with we were visiting at the same time they were finishing up on their next year’s budget," Chase said. "I say, ‘how many of you have a cybersecurity program in place.’ The answer was weak at best. I say, ‘how much money did you allocate for ransomware?’ None. Folks, those counties have multi-million-dollar budgets, handle a lot of cash, and they’re easy pickings for even amateur cybersecurity hacks.”

With one excused vote, the report was unanimously adopted as presented and will be delivered to lawmakers in the coming legislative session.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture