Jesse Fonkert, the Executive Director of the Economic Development Association for Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties, introduced himself to Minnehaha County Commissioners at last Tuesday’s meeting. Prior to this new position, Fonkert had been with the Hartford Chamber of Commerce. (Photo/Dave Baumeister)

Dave Baumeister | County Correspondent

SIOUX FALLS – During Tuesday’s regular Minnehaha County Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to rescind their emergency declaration from May 6 and allow the opening of all county offices.

Along with opening buildings, the new resolution removes limits on people allowed in businesses located in Minnehaha County, outside of municipalities.

Even though they ended their previous resolution, the new resolution specifically encourages the public to exercise “due diligence” in doing business and interacting with others.

It also reads that businesses should follow all CDC and South Dakota DOH guidelines.

Commission chair Jean Bender said that we need to figure out the “new normal, since it will probably be 12 to 18 months before we see a vaccine.”

With the recent “every other week” meeting schedule, Equalization Director Chris Lilla had a larger than usual number of properties for tax abatements.

There were 20 parcels approved which qualified for disabled veterans’ abatements, and five other parcels were approved for other abatements.

The commission denied four properties, two seeking veterans’ exemptions.

One of the denied veterans’ parcels was due to the type of disability.

Lilla explained that to be eligible, a veteran must be listed by the Veterans’ Administration as having a “total and permanent disability.”

Commissioner Jeff Barth asked, “What if the VA only gives a disability for 20 years?”

And because of that inconsistency, Barth was the only commissioner to vote against the denial on that veteran’s abatement, which passed 4-1.

County State’s Attorney Crystal Johnson and Emergency Management Director Jason Gearman each presented information about what their departments had been doing, as part of the budgeting process.

While Gearman had been speaking a lot at almost all recent meetings, this time he was more specific about different groups, many which are volunteer groups, that work through the Office of Emergency Management.

Johnson, too, talked about challenges her office has faced with certain increases in criminal activity and the lack of jury trials during the COVID-19 crisis.

Most of the commissioners mentioned how impressed they were with both Johnson and Gearman, as well as their staffs, in dealing with various problems over a very difficult year.

Fodder for legislation

Commission Administrative Assistant Craig Dewey informed the county board they would need to look at items they wanted to submit for possible action in the 2021 South Dakota State Legislature.

He presented a list of various items put together by the city of Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County for possible submission to the SD Association of County Commissioners.

Dewey said that any items had to be brought up and voted on before the July 30 submission deadline.

Nothing has been officially acted on yet.

Among the items on the list are TIF districts, elimination of double taxation, a county tax on alcohol, etc.

Also, the list included items that had not been mentioned at the county level since 2018, which called for the elimination or limiting of official government newspapers. 

It is not known if this was a maneuver by a person on the Minnehaha County Commission or the Sioux Falls City Council, but over the past two years, Minnehaha commissioners have twice voted to expand their number of legal newspapers beyond what state law requires.

The county commission will not meet on June 2, because of election day, but they will start back on their regular weekly meeting schedule beginning June 9.