PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Lawmakers overseeing the crafting of the state budget were told at length about problems with funding for water projects, airports and county jails during a lengthy committee meeting Friday.
Bills addressing all three issues ended up passing the 18-member Joint Committee on Appropriations after being described as vital needs by many proponent speakers.
Senate Bill 156 ($100 million in federal funding for water projects) passed 13-5, while SB-158 (airport funding) passed 16-2 and SB-155 ($50 million to create a jail improvement and construction fund) passed 11-7.
$100 million passed for water projects
Republican Sen. Helen Duhamel, who dubbed herself “water woman,” told the panel planning for growth in West River communities depends upon available water. She said in 50 years, West River’s population could grow from 250,000 people to more than 600,000 people.
“Our existing water resources simply cannot support this expansion,” Duhamel said. “We’re finally organized, incentivized and recognize our need for water in as soon as 20 to 50 years in drought conditions.”
Duhamel explained the current water system depends heavily on deep wells into aquifers. She described the wells as “350 straws” into the Madison aquifer.
“It’s not recharging fast enough. Each new development asks for a new well,” Duhamel said. “We need a coordinated water strategy out west right now. We don’t have rural water systems.”
City officials from Box Elder, New Underwood, Rapid City and Spearfish testified in favor as did lobbyists with the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems and WEB (Walworth, Edmunds and Brown Counties) Water.
SB-156 would require the Board of Water and Natural Resources to use $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act money for water projects. Duhamel said she understands the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources wants to wait, but she said the clock is ticking for the ARPA money that needs to be spent by December 2026.
DANR opposed SB-156 because too many projects awarded money last year haven’t had bids accepted and the total costs for those are unknown. DANR also noted the bill only allows money for water projects, not wastewater or any other infrastructure projects.
Bureau of Finance and Management Commissioner Jim Terwilliger said there’s no secret $105 million in ARPA money is still not allocated. He said that is on purpose to wait and see where the need for the money will be.
“The vast majority of the projects that we allocated funds for last year have not had bids coming in yet,” Terwilliger said. “I think it’s premature for this bill. We’re happy to get together with the legislature in the interim to work through this.”
Terwilliger said there will be a lot more information about the progress of state water projects that received $600 million in funding in 2022.
“There is time,” Terwilliger said. “These funds don’t need to be committed until the end of 2024 and spent until the end of 2026.”
Airports looking for more state partnership
Chris Deitz, with the South Dakota Airport Management Association, said there are 55 airports in South Dakota that all have infrastructure needs. Deitz said a SDDOT Airport Pavement Condition Index study rated many airports as “fair” but the same study estimated there’s $44 million needed per year for runway pavements.
SB-158 was seeking $20 million in funding aid but was amended to $1 to keep the conversation going with lawmakers on an agreeable figure.
Patrick Dame, director of the Rapid City Regional Airport, and Dan Letellier, director of the Sioux Falls Regional Airport, each spoke in favor of SB-158. Dame noted the cost of a runaway approved by Federal Aviation Administration standards cost about $20 million in 2003 but that has increased to $60 million.
Dame said federal funding makes up about 60% while the other 40% has to be covered by the local community. Dame said the state Aeronautics Commission is not meeting the current needs and there’ll be ongoing requests from airports for state aid.
Letellier said Sioux Falls Regional Airport had more than $400 million annual impact on the economy. He said the airport is vital for cargo and emergency health care as well as travel.
Letellier said the airport has asked people to get rides to the airport because parking is full and the airport has put $63 million into a new parking garage to accommodate the growing number of travelers.
He mentioned this week’s announcement of Allegiant adding a new nonstop flight to Los Angeles.
“Normally that’s great, but we’re at the point where we’re going to have to limit or say no to any additional service just because we don’t have the gate space available” Letellier said.
He said the first phase to adding four to five new gates would cost more than $130 million. He said the airport will do everything it can to fund those projects on its own, but it becomes beyond local funding.
“We really need a partnership with every governmental entity that benefits from having the airport in Sioux Falls,” Letellier said.
$50 million for county jail program
SB-155 would create an independent board to oversee funding for regional county jails through grants and loans. The regional jail would need a minimum of three counties served.
Republican Sen. Bryan Breitling called SB-155 a gap funding bill that would work alongside SB-74 which creates and defines regional jails.
Staci Ackerman, lobbyist for the South Dakota Sheriff’s Association, said every county used to have at least one jail cell, but now there’s 23 jails for 66 counties which means 41 counties contract for county jail space. Funding for county jails is the big hurdle because most people don’t want property tax opt outs to fund more jails.
“They understand the need but they don’t want it fully funded on the back of property taxes,” Ackerman said.
Dave Lunzman, the Brown County Sheriff, said a Brown County regional jail can impact 32% of the land in South Dakota but only 13% of the population.
“That’s one of the reasons we can’t afford this,” Lunzman said. “We’ve tried every alternative method possible. We need some help.”