New hurdle in sidewalk has many citizens frustrated

By Carol Walker


As merchants in Hill City once again roll out the red carpet for visitors to the community, the safety and aesthetics of walking on that “carpet” again come to the forefront. Brett McMacken, city administrator, past and present mayors and city council members have pushed for sidewalk redesign and repair, as have various committees over the years.

During the public comment portion of the City Hill City Council meeting on Monday night, Dave Guerre, a concerned citizen, read a statement to the council recounting some of the efforts by various committees in the past eight years and expressing the desire for a public meeting ith Doug Kinniburgh, local government engineer with South Dakota Department of Transportation. Guerre had previously talked with Kinniburgh over the phone and he agreed to come to Hill City to address the council and the public and share the timeline for the project. Guerre requested that mayor Julie Wickware-Klein confirm a date for that meeting during the month of May.

Janet Wetovick-Bily, Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, said in an email that a timeline would be wonderful for business owners in the community. She went on to say the chamber and Heart of the Hills Economic Development Commission are preparing a “Construction Survival Guide” for businesses and it needs to get out well in advance of the construction.

A new hiccup has occurred in the project, which is an archeological review of a historic structure in Hill City. McMacken clarified that the structure in question is the building which now houses Harley Davidson.

“I am a little confused about this since the Desperados building is the oldest structure in Hill City and probably in Pennington County, but that is not the one they are concerned with. The idea of an archeological review came up a couple years ago and now resurfaced a couple months ago…This is as much of a shock to me as it is to you,” said McMacken.

He said the city will be going down about eight inches with the sidewalk project and that could affect the foundation of the structure in question, which could be what sparked the archeological review of a historic structure. This is all up to the state.

“There are approved companies on the state list that conduct these surveys,” said McMacken.

He has had requests for water line upgrades and foundation repairs in conjunction with the sidewalk project in the past few years and said he would like to work with private business owners as much as possible. However, the project the city is pursuing is renovation of the sidewalks and people with other construction needs will have to confer directly with contractors selected for the project.

Councilwoman Kathy Skorzewski asked if this would affect the timeline for letting bids out this spring for late fall construction. McMacken indicated that the timeline should remain in place.

The council approved the resolution to levy an occupation tax of $2 per occupied room per night on lodging establishments within Hill City with 11 units or more. This money will begin to be collected as of June 1 and will be used to fund the first Business Improvement District (BID) project.

As a result of a BID Board request, the council gave the nod for McMacken to pursue writing up the particulars for hiring a manager for the BID project. This person would not be an employee of the city but rather under a service contract and that his or her wages would come from collected BID money.

McMacken also asked for council direction on the two options open to the city for the BID project. The city could go the route of a revenue bond or they could self-fund the project through the emergency fund.

“The revenue bond involves a bonding company and a bonding attorney and costs a lot of money. We have set aside money for an emergency fund and we can afford to lend money to ourselves. We would charge two percent interest on the money,” said McMacken.

John Johnson said he could see that self-funding would be a more cost-effective way to go, but the appearance to the public could be confusing.

“The people on Deegan Drive might say, “If there is enough money to fund this project, why not pave Deegan?’” Johnson asked.

However, this would basically be a line of credit. The money could be used to fund the BID project as it progresses, with money coming from the emergency fund. That money would be replenished with dollars collected from the $2 occupation tax.

The city has about $1 million in reserve, which McMacken said would be used to fund the city in the event of the economic engine going away due to something like a flood or fire. It would allow the city to survive while giving businesses time to rebuild.

The council authorized McMacken to pursue writing up a proposal to self-fund the BID project. Councilman Jason Gillaspie asked that an explanation of how the two percent interest would be used by the city, perhaps for a road paving fund, be included in the proposal.

The next BID Board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 3 at 5 p.m. at city hall with the following topics to be discussed: paving the alley, the welcome sign and the sidewalk corridor from Main Street to the senior center.

Frank Bettman, city attorney, had been previously asked to explain the roles and responsibilities of the mayor and aldermen in the community. He explained that the mayor serves much like a liaison, serving both on the legislative and executive side in city government.

“Aldermen serve as a group, but each one individually has the same rights and authority to ask questions as a private citizen would have. They do not have to go through a chain of command, but that is where it stops,” said Bettmann.

If an alderman or woman thinks someone on staff is not satisfactorily carrying out his or her job, the alderman or woman cannot bring that to the employee. The issue can be brought back to the council for discussion and a course of action can be decided as a group.

“The power of the alderman rests in the group,” said Bettmann.

Councilman Jim Peterson asked additional questions, one being, “Can an alderman give opinions?” Bettmann said that is a gray area, because the person hearing the opinion could look at that as direction from the city and it was best to stay away from that.

Bettmann was also asked during the course of the meeting about the $522.50 charged to the city for answering a sign ordinance question. Johnson believed the cost was too high. Bettmann countered that he knew this was not an easy question and was authorized by the city to do the research. He cited related cases, reviewed state statutes, etc., all of which required two and a half hours at $195 per hour, the going rate for city attorney fees.

“I can justify everything I did and I clearly explained it in the letter. I knew this would involve some time and initially declined to respond unless authorized by the city,” said Bettmann.

“I think we need to authorize payment if we authorized Frank to do the work,” said Gillaspie.

The fee was part of the claims list which had to be approved by the council. Skorzewski and Gillaspie voted to approve, while Johnson and Peterson voted against approval. It will be discussed more at a future meeting.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Monday, May 14 at 5:30 p.m. at city hall.