New federal law could hinder hiring for county highway department

Effective last week, a new federal law regarding licensing for commercial driver licenses (CDL) could hinder the hiring of county heavy equipment operators. 
The operators on Highway Superintendent Cody Green’s crew are required by law to have a CDL before driving heavy equipment such as snow plows and graders. 
The new law mandates that those who seek a CDL now take classes prior to testing – classes that could cost them as much as $4,000-$5,000!    
Those who already have a CDL are exempt but anybody new that Green hires will be required to take those classes. 
The question that Green posed to the County Commission last Tuesday was what he should do when applicants have no CDL. Would the county pay all or part of that training?
Would the new operator be required to work in Perkins County a given number of years if the county were to help pay for training costs? It was food for thought. 
Currently, Green has a full crew. His latest hire, Otis Funk, began his new employment in Perkins County on January 18. He took his CDL test prior to the new law taking effect. Funk comes from Haakon County. His wage was set at $18.49/hour.
Another employee-related item on last Tuesday’s agenda in the county board room in Bison was the COVID-19 policy that commissioners enacted by resolution at the beginning of the pandemic two years ago. 
That policy, which gave employees 80 hours of leave time when they or a family member were exposed to or tested positive for COVID, was rescinded last week. 
In the future, employees who miss work due to COVID will have to use their sick and/or leave time. Time needed over and above their accumulated sick/leave time will be without pay.
There’s a new wrinkle in the proposed work on the Prairie City Road this year. The grinder that the county had reserved from the Caterpillar dealership in Rapid City has been sold and they don’t have another. The John Deere dealership might have one by 2023 but Green termed it a “slim to none chance” of acquiring one for ripping up and grinding those 10 miles of asphalt road in preparation for turning the road to gravel. He will now advertise for a contractor to do the work.
Tracy Collins, who drives that road, along with quite a few others who work or go to school in town, argued a couple of points on Tuesday for not going to gravel. 
Currently, the county only removes snow on those 10 miles of asphalt. They do not plow the gravel beyond that. He wanted to know what happens to early morning snow removal when the entire road is gravel. He also said that the commission should not be comparing this road to those East River that have been returned to gravel. In those cases, motorists have another paved road within four miles or so, he said; out here the nearest paved roads are going to substantially further.
Justifying his presence, Collins said, “If you aren’t in on the discussion, you can’t complain about the decision.”
On a brighter note, archeologists and the state historical society have signed off on the county mining gravel from the Marty pit for that project. 
Bids from four contractors were opened for the crushing and stockpiling of gravel from the Marty pit. The bids ranged from $3.60/T to $4.73/T.
Low bidder Morris, Inc., Ft. Pierre, was awarded the bid for 50,000T for a total of $180,000. Two years ago, when crushing and stockpiling was done, the bid was $3.54/T. Green and the five-man board were all pleased with the new bid. 
Green had budgeted $300,000, including royalty to landowners, for that gravel project. He indicated that he would probably extend the tonnage to be crushed and stockpiled by another 15,000 – 16,000T to take advantage of the rate offered by Morris, Inc.
A public hearing was held at 10:30 a.m. regarding selling gravel to individuals. Green voiced his opinion that he’d rather not sell any at all because his inventory is low for the work that needs to be done. Commissioners went ahead and approved the sale to other entities and individuals for $6.00 and $6.30, respectively, but left it to Green’s discretion if he wanted to sell any or not. 
Early in the meeting, the commission approved the purchase of a new oil burner for the county shop for $15,365, including a one-year warranty. By the end of the day, however, the retailer, Grimm’s Pump, Rapid City, had increased their price to $17,589. Green was instructed to have a conversation with Grimm’s. 
A discussion regarding a request from a landowner to go to open range vs. fencing for livestock on county roads resulted in a 40-minute executive session with States Attorney Shane Penfield, Sheriff Kelly Serr and Green to discuss legalities.   
As advertised, a public hearing for redistricting of Perkins County commissioner districts was held at 11:00 a.m. and was uncontested.
The change is a result of new census figures following the 2020 10-year Census and the counties efforts to keep the same population in each of its five commissioner districts. Bixby and Martin Townships were moved to Kyle Carmichael’s District #4 from Wayne Henderson’s District #3. 
Finance Officer Sylvia Chapman proposed a new tax for Perkins County landowners. It would be a road and bridge levy to use for capital improvements for those infrastructures. 
“If you don’t have the money, you can’t do the job,” she said. 
She presented a spreadsheet detailing the amount of money that could be raised in a year with increments of ten cents up to $1.20 per $1,000 of valuation. “Everybody in the county would pay that,” she said. 
The counties current valuation is $735,497,073.
 Henderson, worried about the additional property tax, raised a couple of objections. Those with more land would pay much more than somebody who has only a house in town, he said, adding that those who live on township roads would get no value from the tax. 
The commission has time to think about and discuss the new suggested tax. It would take a 2/3 vote of the commission to pass and would have to be submitted to the state by July 15. Voters would have the opportunity to request a vote of the people with a petition signed by at least 5% of the county’s registered voters.
At the end of a long meeting last week, Director of Equalization Corina Molnar offered her annual presentation in preparation for the county equalization process that begins in March. 
This year she offered a background on the sales ratio and how it affects total tax dollars. “It’s one of the hardest things to wrap our heads around,” she said, adding that sales are used “to arrive at a fair and equitable distribution of the overall tax burden.”
Those sales actually begin in the Register of Deeds office when property buys and sells. Molnar’s office receives the information next to verify and adjust where necessary, before sending the results to the Department of Revenue in Pierre. That office determines the equalization factor which is sent to the county finance office before billing to property owners.
Full and true value times the equalization factor times the county’s mill levy equals the amount of tax payable on more than 16,000 properties within this county.
Molnar also addressed a request from Gregorian in Lemmon regarding their increase in valuation for taxes due in 2022. She compared it to other businesses in Lemmon with the approximate same square footage. Gregorian’s appeal last year resulted in a decrease in valuation but the current valuation is, again, at the previous year’s amount. 
In other business: 1.) Load limits on county roads will go into effect on February 28 for as long as needed and SD Highway Patrol will enforce those limits; 2.) County equipment and operator rental rates were increased by 15% over last year; 3.) Insurance agent Anthony Fike was back to share quotes on an umbrella policy for the county’s liability, property and auto coverage, which the commission denied; 4.) Tax abatements were awarded on 8 properties and 7 were added to the list of taxable properties; 5.) Green was to host seven West River highway superintendents last Thursday for their regular meeting and Perkins County will host the March 11 meeting of the Black Hills Association of County Commissioners.

The Pioneer Review

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Philip, SD 57567
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