By Deb Hendrickson
Among the controversial issues discussed at the Bennett County Commissioner’s meeting on Wednesday, August 19, were items pertaining to new hire policy and procedures, road work and budget shortfalls. All five commissioners were present at the meeting.
Highway Superintendent, Justin Freise reported that the culvert on 227 Avenue was in the ground and covered up. They are mowing now and finishing up projects. Friese stated that a two-year-old used mower was recently purchased from Kennedy Implement for $6,500 with a $4,500 trade-in option and it is working great.
Friese also reported that a used John Deere 6420 Tractor had been purchased.
It was stated that the two old Vermeer mowers the county owns should be declared surplus but the matter will be discussed and addressed at the September 2 meeting.
Once again, the controversy over the county purchasing base course from Commissioner Schomp was brought up. Commissioner Fanning stated, “I see we’re back to hauling out of Judd’s, what happened with that? I am against it and still feel like it is a conflict of interest.”
The board went into executive session to discuss legal matters.
When they reconvened, State’s Attorney Sarah Harris reported that she had done extensive research with the Attorney General, head of Legal Audit as well as doing a personal review of the S.D. Codified Law pertaining to the issue of purchasing base course from a commissioner. The findings resulted in the reassurance that the board is within their rights to purchase base course from Schomp. Further research indicated that paying Commissioner Schomp $1.00 per ton minus transportation fees versus paying anywhere from $1.50 to $6.00 per ton plus hauling to anyone else is a huge savings to county residents.
Commissioner Kraft commented that he was concerned about it too, but went on to say since there are no other open pits in the area that have comparable material like they are getting from Schomp, choices are limited. “I think it is pretty good stuff,” Kraft said.
There was only one sealed bid submitted to the board for roof replacement on the courthouse and law department’s roofs. Pete’s Builders submitted a bid of $280,608.00 to replace the roof on the courthouse portion of the building, along with another bid of $140,817.50 to replace the roof on the law department’s portion. The board has 30 days to either accept or reject the bid. The issue was tabled pending further research.
The board went into executive session to address legal matters concerning the contract with Hahn Construction on the County Line Road. When they reconvened, it was decided to table the item until the next meeting for further consideration.
Kelvin McCollam addressed the board concerning the courthouse roof replacement. After doing a preliminary, rough inspection, he stated that in is his opinion the roof is in good shape and wouldn’t require a major make-over. He offered to do a more in-depth inspection of the roof using a thermal imagining machine to test for wet spots on the roof. After this has been determined, McCollam stated that he could make a better estimate as to how extensive the damage is on the roof. The board asked McCollam to proceed and then get back to them.
Don Hammond, S.D. DOT Bridge Inspector presented his report on the condition of the bridges and box culverts in the county. One box culvert, built in 1940, located west of Martin on 205th Avenue is showing a lot of wear and is of major concern. The board is working with Tom Wilsey from Brosz Engineering on a five-year-plan in regards to bridge/box culvert replacement allocations for upcoming projects. Wilsey stated that he hopes to have the plan completed and submitted to the board by the end of the month. Hammond also reminded the board that Bridge Improvement Grants, which are 80/20 money, are available through the state. The board asked Friese to put up the weight limit signs where applicable.
Mental Health Chairperson, Attorney Rochelle Norburg from Burke, S.D. addressed the board via a conference call. Norburg has been working with Sheriff Paul Williams and Winner-based mental health provider Southern Plains Behavorial Health Services to prepare a contract which, if needed, would provide services for inmates from Bennett County while being incarcerated at the Winner jail. This new contract with a local provider would alleviate the rare instances that inmates would need to be transferred back and forth. The board was in favor of this and asked Norburg to proceed. She plans to attend the next commissioner’s meeting.
Emergency Manager Jeff Siscoe reported that the stipulations and rules relating to the use of CARES funds are updated on a regular basis. The Federal Government has the authority to offer guidance and guidelines pertaining to which expenses are applicable and to reject any that are not. Other than the extra paperwork requirements, the process is going along well.
Mike Harris attended the meeting as a follow-up to his previous request to purchase 10 loads of gravel from the county. The gravel would be taken from the Prang’s gravel pit and Bob Ceplecha would do the hauling. After discussion was held as to whether or not the pit had been approved, Commissioner Kirk moved to approve the pit and allow Harris the purchase. Kraft seconded, motion carried.
State’s Attorney Sarah Harris stated some concerns she had relating to the condition of the courthouse grounds. She remarked about several dead tree limbs, weeds and thistle issues, and the possibility of applying fertilizer and grass seed to the lawn. The matter will be looked into. City Foreman Paul Noel who previously offered to level the ground, add topsoil and seed to the vacated lot west of the courthouse will be contacted to see if this is still an option.
Commissioner Schomp received a request from a resident asking if there could be an audio system installed in the courtroom so people speaking at the front of the room could be heard at the back of the room during court sessions. Commissioner Kraft asked about the possibility of looking into some potential grant money to purchase a system and get it installed. After some research has been done, the board will re-address the issue.
Discussion was held regarding the county’s protocol pertaining to new hire employees. Highway Superintendent Freise was asked to verify what starting wage was being offered. He stated that it was $13.00 per hour without a CDL and $13.50 per hour with a CDL.
The board went into executive session to discuss personnel. Upon reconvening, Kraft made a motion to allow all department heads to chose an employee but that person will not be allowed to go to work without the approval from the board. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Kirk, all voted yes, and the motion carried.
At this time Schomp made a motion to hire Shawn Marrs at $13.00 per hour as a full-time highway laborer. The motion failed for lack of a second. Before moving on, Schomp interjected, “You guys aren’t in favor? Excuse my language, but I really feel like you’re shitting on the highway superintendent because he’s the guy who has to work with him every day. Okay, you can move on now, I’m done!”
Kraft moved to hire Brittany Neigel as a part-time 24/7 clerk at $9.75 per hour. Kirk seconded and the motion carried.
All of the claims presented to the board with the exception of the invoice from Brosz Engineering were approved for payment.
Resolution #16-2020 was approved establishing the polling place for the November election for Martin Rural 26-27 voters as the Martin Firehall.
State’s Attorney Harris is preparing an agreement which will release the county from any liability if residents rent the county’s weed spraying equipment. Friese stated that two four-wheelers are set up with sprayers and tanks and are ready to go. The board recommended charging a deposit of $150 and $100 per day to rent the equipment. It was also reiterated that Milestone can be purchased at the county shop.
The county is awaiting prospective funds to come in from several entities including: Purple Wave (surplus equipment); FEMA (road damage from 2019); resale of gravel from May Pitt (35,000 tons); S.D. State reimbursement (repairs made on County Line road); and BigIron (surplus-heavy equipment). Reimbursement from S.D. State (FAS) for completed road work within the county amounting to $100,000 have been received. This FAS money was deposited into the county reserve fund. With the exception of the prospective funds received from the resale of the May Pitt gravel, which will be placed back into the gravel budget, the other funds will be deposited into the reserve fund.
End of the year highway budget shortfalls came under discussion. Auditor Angie Hicks repeatedly emphasized that the county cannot run in the negative and she cannot submit the supplemental budget with any line items showing negative figures. Commissioner Slattery stated that he would meet with her after the meeting to rectify the problem in order to meet the filing deadline.
Prior to adjournment of the meeting, tempers flared again, but the meeting did end on a positive note when Commissioner Schomp stated that he has received a lot of phone calls with residents relaying compliments on what is being done on the roads within the county. “People are seeing a difference,” he stated.
The next Commissioner’s meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 2 at 9:30 a.m. in the courtroom at the courthouse.