State lawmakers propose ways to help South Dakota counties

State lawmakers propose ways to help South Dakota counties

A panel of state lawmakers has wrapped up work on ideas that could help ease financial strain on South Dakota counties.

The final list on Wednesday from the Legislature’s Study Committee on County Funding and Services included eight proposals and two resolutions.

The chairs, Republican Rep. Roger Chase and Republican Sen. Randy Deibert, will deliver a report of the work to the Legislature’s Executive Board. If the board approves it, the Legislative Research Council would then assemble drafts for the 2024 session that opens January 8.

Chase said copies of the final summary would be provided to committee members for approval. Their meeting coincided with the annual meetings of the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners and the South Dakota Association of County Officials at the Sioux Falls Ramkota Convention Center.

County officials spent the morning telling lawmakers about difficulties that county governments face.

“We will just become more and more minimalist, less and less capable,” Clay County Commission chair Elizabeth Smith said about the increasing difficulties counties have faced in the wake of the property-tax limits the Legislature enacted a quarter-century ago at the suggestion of Governor Bill Janklow, after voters in 1994 nearly passed a constitutional amendment.

“You’ve given us the testimony,” Chase told county officials as the lawmakers broke for lunch. “We’ll run with it. We need your help when we get to Pierre in January.”

Here’s a look at what the panel agreed in the afternoon to take forward:

Letting county governments charge administrative fees to other governments, such as school boards and municipalities, for collecting property taxes. Deibert said counties provide the manpower for assessing property values and collecting taxes. “I see it as a fairness issue,” Republican Rep. John Mills said. Still to be worked out is whether the fee should be a percentage of the taxes or be based on a county’s costs. Noted Republican Sen. Helene Duhamel: “The state charges a percentage on the sales tax for each municipality that receives it.” But Republican Sen. David Johnson spoke against it: “It’s a new tax, a new fee, paid ultimately by the citizens of South Dakota.”

State funding of veteran service officers. State law requires that county governments have VSOs. Counties currently pay their salaries and benefits, but Johnson wants state government to pay 100% of those costs as well as for training. Still unclear is how salaries would be set.

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