PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Ranchers in western South Dakota currently pay a dollar per head for state-required inspections when their cattle are sold or leave the area. The South Dakota Brand Board is discussing whether to ask state lawmakers for permission to charge more.

Board members talked by teleconference on Tuesday about whether to seek up to two dollars. Currently, inspections are costing $1.18 per head on average, eighteen cents more than the inspection fee brings in.

The board also is looking at requesting a service fee of some amount for inspections of single animals or small groups, where the inspection fee itself isn’t sufficient to cover the inspector’s time for traveling to a site.

The proposals could be made to the 2024 Legislature that opens session January 9. At this point, the board hasn’t identified any sponsors.

The board’s executive director, Debbie Trapp, said that legislative approval of a higher cap wouldn’t mean that the fee itself would rise by that much. She said the board would still need to propose a change to administrative rule and hold a public hearing.

The cap last was increased to one dollar in 2008, the year that the Brand Board took over management of ownership inspections from the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. The board raised the actual fee to one dollar through a rule change in 2013.

“We haven’t formally tried to increase it,” Trapp told board members.

A panel of 16 legislators met with Brand Board president Scott Vance of Faith and Trapp during the Stockgrowers annual convention that was held October 3-4 in Rapid City.

Stockgrowers executive director Doris Lauing said Tuesday that two of her group’s concerns are that more than $400,000 that has accumulated in the Brand Board’s holds account, rather than being returned to cattle owners, and that the Brand Board has been without a chief brand inspector since August 2022.

The board recently announced it has shifted to a system of three district supervisors overseeing inspectors.

Lauing said the Stockgrowers agreed during the 2023 legislative session to let die a bill from Republican Rep. Liz May in exchange for a series of meetings with the Brand Board and two other groups to discuss disagreements. May’s bill called for Brand Board members to be elected rather than appointed by the governor.

According to Lauing, another state lawmaker, Republican Rep. Rocky Blare, asked state Agriculture and Natural Resources Secretary Hunter Roberts that the Brand Board receive an independent financial audit. Roberts agreed in September. Whether the outside look can be complete by January isn’t certain.

According to Lauing, the Stockgrowers are “totally opposed” to lawmakers passing the $2 inspection fee but would be willing to accept an inspection fee of $1.25.

“To me, without an audit, the Brand Board should not ask for a penny, nothing, because we have not seen their financials,” Lauing said.