SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A tax levy vote is set for Oct. 5 in Lincoln County to raise money for road and bridge projects in the county. If passed, the levy would raise property taxes on a home valued at $300,000 by $90 a year.
A campaign to vote no on the property levy says the money will be used for two proposed roundabouts in the northern part of the county at the expense of needed road and bridge projects in other parts of the county.
Two county officials said other road and bridge projects will still be be done. The two proposed roundabouts are needed to address safety and traffic flows at two heavily used intersections, the county officials said.
“Growth is a hard thing. It’s great to have growth but dealing with growth takes money,” said Lincoln County Highway Superintendent Terry Fluit. “We’re trying to do this for the betterment of the county.”
Betty Otten, a member of the vote no campaign, said the roundabouts aren’t needed at the intersections of 271st Street and Cliff Avenue and 273rd Street and Louise Avenue. The county needs to fix other roads and bridges, including those used by farmers, Otten said.
“Farmers are paying taxes,” Otten said. In some cases because of load limits on bridges, farmers drive miles out of their way to get to fields or other destinations, she said.
In the past 10 years many roads in the southern part of the county have been milled and overlayed, Fluit said.
Projects across the county are also included in the county’s five year highway improvement plan and the 2019 master transportation plan.
“To the southern folks, (it seems) all the money is going (to the north),” Fluit said. “But we’re spreading the money around.”
Lincoln County Board chairwoman Tiffani Landeen said the two identified intersections need improvements. The roundabouts were one of several options considered by the county, she said.
The roundabouts are proposed and the option or scope of projects could change, Fluit and Landeen said.
The 271st and Cliff Avenue intersection needs improvement, Fluit said.
The county installed a controlled traffic signal and turning lanes at the intersection of Cliff Avenue and 271st Street in 2013 at a cost of $357,000, Otten said.
“It’s a beautiful intersection,” Otten said of 271st and Cliff Avenue. The county also just spent $1.3 million on an asphalt overlay, she said.
Why would the county spend all that money in 2013 only to dig up the intersection, Otten questioned.
Increased traffic and projected increases have caused more safety concerns at the intersection, Fluit said.
In general, roundabouts move traffic through an intersection safely and efficiently, Fluit said. Any accidents are usually minor because of the reduced speeds in a roundabout, he said.
“Even the turning lanes are too short,” Fluit said as the length can’t contain the amount of traffic that needs to turn. The intersection’s traffic counts have also increased since 2013, he said.
The county did a study in 2018 and the north and south average daily traffic count was 7,300 vehicles and the east and west average daily county was 3,800, Fluit said. “We are trying to get a new count but I’m guessing, it’s more,” Fluit said.
The county did improve the intersection with a turning lane and temporary lights in 2013 but “eight years later, we are here because of growth,” Fluit said.
Growth is also driving the proposed roundabout at 273rd and Louise Avenue, Fluit said.
That intersection is near the new Harrisburg elementary school. “We’ve seen preliminary plans for development around that school,” Fluit said.
The new school and any development that follows will generate more traffic, Fluit said.
The most recent traffic counts show 4,500 to 5,000 vehicles on 273rd (117/110) and 1,200 a day on Louise, Fluit said.
The intersection is currently a “very tight” four-way stop, Fluit said.
Otten said traffic counts don’t justify the money that would be spent on the proposed roundabouts.
Fluit said traffic counts on some paved roads in the county show that the average daily count is less than 250 vehicles. The engineering standard is for roads with less than 250 vehicles a day to be gravel, he said. Yet, the county still maintains roads with less than 250 vehicles as paved.
“It’s a balancing act. We have paved roads with 140 cars a day. Is it worth it to pay $12,000 to maintain a paved road when you can maintain a gravel road for half of that,” Fluit said.
Communication about the vote and levy
Otten and material from the vote no campaign said the levy ballot is deceptive because it says the three-year property tax increase will be spent on roads and bridges and does not specifically mention the two proposed roundabouts.
“I don’t know why anybody would claim we are not being transparent,” Landeen said.
Tom Wollman, the states attorney in Lincoln County, said the process has been above board. The public has an opportunity to attend meetings and they are broadcast and archived, he said. Minutes and agendas are also posted on the county website.
The opposition has created a narrative that the board was doing things deceptively, including alleging that the ballot is deceptive, Wollman said.
The ballot does not contain the two proposed roundabouts because those were only identified proposed projects, Wollman said. State law requires the ballots to be very specific on what the levy is what the property tax levy increase will be.
Landeen said the county board discussed the two proposed roundabouts in at least two meetings.
In board discussions and on the July 6 board agenda, the two intersections were identified as possible projects. A July 6 agenda briefing on a road and bridge levy includes attachments on the two roundabouts.
The June 29 board work session agenda and minutes also show that traffic counts and possible options for improvements of two intersections were discussed as well as the road and bridge levy.
The county board has discussed a road and bridge levy in each of the past three years, Landeen said.
In years past, there were concerns that no identified projects for which the road and bridge levy money could be used, Landeen said.
Now, there is some concern that projects were identified, Landeen said.
The minutes from July 6 also show that Fluit explained some projects but the approved resolution to call for a road and bridge levy vote does not name the projects.
RESOLUTION: PROPERTY TAX INCREASE OF $0.30 PER $1,000 OF TAXABLE VALUATION
BE IT RESOLVED that the governing board of Lincoln County state that it is unable to properly
maintain, repair, construct, and reconstruct its roads and bridges. SDCL 10-12-13 now permits the
County to establish a tax amount which may be levied, and such amount can increase each year with the
amount of inflation and new construction. Therefore, the Board of County Commissioners of Lincoln
County does now establish a property tax increase of $0.30 per $1,000 of taxable valuation starting with
calendar year 2021 taxes payable 2022 and ending calendar year 2023 taxes payable 2024.
MOTION by Jibben and seconded by Schmidt. Arends: “Aye” Jibben: “Aye” Poppens: “Aye” Schmidt:
“Aye” Landeen: “Aye”. Motion carried.
Wollman said there has been little promotion of the tax levy including by cities in the county who would get revenue from the levy.
Cities in the county split 25% of the revenue, based on the city’s valuation, auditor Sheri Lund said.
What does .30 per $1,000 raise?
Lund said it’s important to note that money generated from a road and bridge levy goes into a restricted fund. It can’t be used for the general fund, Lund said.
The property tax increase would generate an estimated $2.2 million in the first year, Lund said.
Cities in the county split 25% or $417,000, of that $2.2 million, Lund said. That leaves the county $1.8 million.
The estimates are based on the taxable valuations in the county which have not yet been approved by the state, Lund said.
The amount generated could increase in each of the next two years if valuations increase.
What happens if the levy fails?
Landeen said Lincoln County has low tax rate while also trying to keep up with growth.
If the levy fails, the county would likely fall behind on projects, she said.
She doesn’t like to pay more taxes but “I also want to drive on safe roads,” Landeen said.
Otten said a failed vote would force the county to do additional review of projects and better spend its money.
Fluit said the county is already challenged to keep up with needed improvements.
“If the money is not there, unfortunately, projects won’t get done,” Fluit said.