PIERRE — Townships are struggling with budget constraints and other pressures to maintain their roadways and right-of-ways in rural South Dakota, which is why representatives from the South Dakota Association of Towns and Townships are calling for help.

On Dec. 11, the association provided lawmakers with a list of challenges townships are facing as a result of the disasters that have plagued the state over the last year.

“We were invited to give a snapshot of what the challenges are for townships at this point,” said Terry Sletten, the association’s executive director. “Generally, we want them to be taken a look at to see what could be done to see how townships could better manage township roads and right-of-ways.”

Sletten said that in order to provide townships and small towns with the funding resources, the discussion needs to continue with intelligent conversations.

“It needs to be a comprehensive conversation, it’s not just a quick easy fix,” Sletten told lawmakers at a legislative appropriations committee meeting. “Townships have self-managed and self-funded, and now it may be time to take a look at a different approach to addressing the matters of our rural agriculture and helping them successfully continue to be a contribution to the economy without being such a huge, personal burden to them.”

Dustin Leiseth, the association’s president, used Branton Township in Hamlin County as an example of the funding resources available to townships.

Brantford Township’s funding sources are:

• Tax levy, $40,000.

• Opt out, $15,000.

• Annual tax levy, $16,000.

• Motor vehicle license funds, $27,684.

• Wheel tax, $1,843.

• Bank franchise tax, $490.

• Department of Interior in lieu of tax, $316.

• Pro rate license, $2,935.

• Game license, $1,808.

• Motor fuel tax, $323.

The total budget for the township comes to $106,399.

Leiseth said the only way townships can garner new funds is through new taxes, noting that one of Gov. Kristi Noem’s pillars is no new taxes.

With the four disasters that have flooded townships across the state and decimated roads, culverts, bridges and other rural infrastructure, Leiseth said, “New taxes will be what we’ll need to keep our infrastructure functioning.”

Even with disaster relief aid on the state and federal level, townships aren’t equipped with the rainy day funds for bigger mitigation and reparation projects.

Leiseth noted that within the state, there are 31,000 miles of township roads and 35,000 miles of county roads and that 32% of all traffic goes through township and county roads.

Valley Township, in Beadle County, has depleted all its funds from snow removal and graveling damaged roads, according to information provided during the meeting.

Valley Township will be going into the winter season with no money to remove snow while costs to maintain and gravel roads have increased more than the township’s incoming revenue.

Prairiewood Township, in Brown County, has concerns about budgeting for next year’s road conditions. “Without the adequate fall maintenance, spring roads are expected to be worse than we can imagine,” the meeting document states.

Turner Township supervisor Michael Stevens, said that his township in Turner County usually has a $60,000 budget. The estimated damage that resulted from three disasters over the last year has an estimated cost of $435,000. The township had to make $200,000 in repairs and borrow money from the bank to do so, with interest, until the township is reimbursed from FEMA.

Regular maintenance was put on hold because funds ran out in the summer and gravel couldn’t be delivered. Turner Township intends to opt out for extra funding.

The meeting document, which provides more details on township struggles throughout the state, can be found at https://tinyurl.com/rnjvvjx.

District 11 Rep. Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls, who serves as chairman of the appropriations committee, told Sletten and Leiseth that he appreciated the information and that despite the limited time left before the 2020 Legislative Session begins, he hopes to make some headway on the issues facing townships.

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