Hot Springs City Council rejects contingency fund expenses
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Twice during last Tuesday night’s Hot Springs City Council meeting on Jan. 17, council members voted down motions that would have dipped into the city’s limited contingency funds for 2023.
First, the city council voted down 5 to 3 a motion to spend $3,700 in contingency funds to have the city’s various department heads take part in a two-day Management Training workshop in March 2023.
City Administrator Jeff Temple had negotiated the discounted rate for the opportunity to have Nsight Partners come to Hot Springs to the conduct the training. He said that he did so based on the expressed desire by the council to have more training available for department heads.
Council members who supported the motion were Bill Lukens, J.R. Huddleston and Debra Johnston. Lukens said he thought the training would help to address some issues that they have experienced in the past, including things that have come up in Executive Session. Johnston said it would have helped to get to motivate everyone to work more cohesively.
Those who opposed the motion – which included Craig Romey, Linda Varvel, Melanie Wilson, Larry Pratt and Dave Burris – were primarily against it due to the fact it would need contingency funds to pay for it. They also felt there were other less expensive options available for online or other training opportunities.
The second motion that was voted down by a 6 to 2 margin was to apply for a South Dakota Governor’s Office of Economic Development Infrastructure First Project 50/50 matching grant, which would have cost the city $15,000 for the $30,000 service.
The availability of the grant was first brought up during Andrea Powers’ quarterly update for the Southern Hills Economic Development Corporation, which took place earlier in the meeting. She described the grant as a way for the city to identify the infrastructure needs of the community over the next five years and how to find the funds to pay for those improvements. Powers added that only 16 communities were going to be chosen for the grant, and the professional engineers would spend between four to six months in the community studying the city’s infrastructure.
While some of the council members expressed support of the idea to identify infrastructure needs, much of the discussion was what to do with that knowledge when they don’t have the funds to address them anyway.
Just prior to voting on this grant opportunity, the council had unanimously voted to terminate an agreement to accept a Community Access Road Grant with the SDDOT that would have helped to repair some city streets near the school. The city had been forced to terminate that agreement for the grant because they did not have the funds to pay for their portion due to the ever-growing cost of the downtown reconstruction project.
Voting against applying for the infrastructure study grant were Varvel, Romey, Pratt, Johnston, Lukens and Burris. Voting in favor were Wilson and Huddleston.
Earlier in the meeting during Powers’ SHEDCO update, she shared information about plans to convert Building 1 at the State Veterans Home into a 26 unit apartment complex.
SHEDCO has made housing a priority and is working with the Southern Hills Future Foundation, who owns that building. Powers said that a company called Dream Design has created a plan to remodel the building at a cost of $3.52 million but is waiting on the final passage of Senate Bill 41, which would free up $200 million in infrastructure funds to help communities create more housing. Through the funds being utilized with the bill, it could pay for up to one-third of the cost of the building. Powers said the other two-thirds could come from any other sources, including private or public funds.
Powers also described how Western Dakota Tech has been working with the State Home to begin a satellite nursing program that could being as soon as the Spring of 2024.
Several personnel actions were also approved during the Jan. 17 council meeting, including the hiring of a full-time police officer, Cherelle Hughes.
Police Chief Ross Norton was on hand at the meeting and said Hughes is a Hot Springs native but had moved back to her hometown and brings with her over 10 years experience in corrections. She, along with another recently hired uncertified police officer, will attend the 13-week Law Enforcement Training in Pierre beginning in March. Once they both graduate later this spring, Norton said the Hot Springs Police Department will be fully staffed with eight full-time, certified officers.