In Lake County news, my grapevine jingles that Democrat Roberta "Bobbi" Janke is running for re-election as Lake County auditor.

Janke won the auditor's seat in 2010, winning the Democrat primary 88% to 12% over Nicole Schleuter, then fending off a Republican challenge from Shelli Gust in the general 53% to 47%. Janke has given Lake County residents no reason I know of to reverse their decision, performing her duties effectively and openly.

I'll also note that, when I've gone to the auditor's office for information, Janke hasn't charged me a penny for public records or advice. Go, Bobbi!

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Kudos to Lake County Democrats Lorri May and Shirley Harrington-Moore! The county party announced on Facebook last night that these two ladies have collected the most signatures in the state for the minimum-wage initiative petition. Good hustle, Lorri and Shirley!

Have no fear, petition hustlers: you still have today, tomorrow, and this weekend to try beating the Lake County total. But the petitions are due in Jason Gant's office in Pierre by the end of business Monday!

In recognition of their hustle, Lorri and Shirley get to ride with the petition caravan to Pierre on Monday. The Dems will hold a press conference at the Labor Temple in Sioux Falls Monday at 8 a.m. before heading to Pierre to give Secretary Gant something to do.

Few people drive to Pierre in November unless they are carrying shotguns, fishing poles, or completed petitions. And I don't think Lorri, Shirley, Zach, and the crew are going for walleye or pheasant. It sounds to me as if they have the 15,855 signatures necessary to put the minimum wage increase on our 2014 ballot.

That effort may be well spent: Nielson Brothers Polling (not to be confused with Northern Beef Packers) announced last night that increasing the minimum wage has strong support among South Dakota voters:

First, when asked about simply raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour, 63.0 percent of likely voters said “yes,” 26.4 percent said “no,” and 10.6 percent were “undecided.”

Second, NBP asked whether the base wage rate for “tipped employees” should be raised from $2.13 to $4.25 per hour. 67.6 percent of respondents said they would support it, with 17.1 percent opposing it, and 15.3 percent “undecided.”

Third, when asked if the minimum wage should rise automatically with the cost of living, 58.9 percent of respondents said “yes,” 27.3 percent said “no,” and 13.8 percent were “unsure.”

Finally, when asked how they would vote on a proposed initiated measure that would include each of the above named provisions, 53.5 percent of respondents would vote for it, 22.8 percent would vote against it, and 23.8 percent were “unsure” [Nielson Brothers Polling, press release, 2013.10.30].

Separately, each minimum-wage provision wins majority support from Democrats and Republicans alike in NBP's poll. Only on the final question of the initiative offering the complete package does GOP support fall below 50%. 44.1% of Republicans would still vote for it, 29.2% would vote against, leaving a little more than a quarter considering whether they would vote against good and moral economic policy just because Democrats put it on the ballot.

David Montgomery tells Dems not to get too excited about this favorable poll:

...It’s good news, in that it suggests many voters look favorably on the idea of a minimum wage increase. But the poll is also done before the campaign, in which supporters and opponents will make their case to the people. Campaigning can change public opinion quickly, especially on issues where voters don’t have strong opinions.

Remember that in September 2012, a month and a half before the election, NBP found Initiated Measure 15 (the sales tax increase) up by 12 points. It ended uplosing by 13 points [David Montgomery, "NBP Finds Strong Support for Minimum Wage One Year Pre-election," Political Smokeout, 2013.10.31].

He's right: the folks who don't want to pay workers more will fight this initiative hard... and those opponents almost by definition are the folks with more money. So Lorri and Shirley and Dems' work has only begun. Run hard, Dems!

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Mr. Ehrisman notices that one of the non-downtowners that Mayor Huether appointed to a Sioux Falls committee working on downtown issues is now moving his business downtown. KELO reports that Eric McDonald is moving his DocuTap electronic medical records business away from the South Dakota Technology Business Center that incubated his company nine years ago and leasing space in the currently vacant CNA Western Surety Building on Phillips Avenue.

KELO mentions that Hegg Companies and Lloyd Companies are upgrading the building for $8 million.

Lloyd Companies... aren't they the same guys who needed Lake County taxpayers to spot them $419,450 just to build a few measly townhouses in Madison?

So really, aren't Lake County taxpayers subsidizing a Sioux Falls company and its Sioux Falls developments?

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Want to know how a Tax Increment Finance District works? Check out my November 2007 explanation, back when Madison created its first TIF district for Randy Schaefer's housing project.

Madison and Lake County are on their way to establishing a second tax increment financing (TIF) district. At their September 5 meeting, the Madison City Commission approved Resolution 2013-26, consenting to Lake County's creation of Tax Increment District Number Two "within the corporate limits of the City."

Funny thing was, neither that resolution nor that night's agenda packet nor any other online document I could find told us where that TIF district would be, or who was asking for it, or what they were going to do with it. Also funny was that the Lake County Commission hadn't taken any formal action on any proposal to create a TIF district.

Tax Increment District 2 proposal draft, cover, showing location of proposed TIF district, Lloyd COmpanies, August 2013

Tax Increment District 2 proposal draft, cover, showing location of proposed TIF district in southwest Madison. Lloyd Companies, August 2013. Click to enlarge!

A little digging revealed that the proposal for TIF district #2 comes from Lloyd Companies in Sioux Falls. Lloyd prefers that their proposal not circulate until they finalize it. But the draft I have says that Lloyd (or, per the plan, a developer LLC that will be formed once Lake County O.K.'s the TIF) wants to build two 14-unit multi-family townhome-style apartment buildings on 1.7 empty acres at the corner of South Union Avenue and Eighth Street Southwest, between Falcon Plastics and the Union Square trailer park. They're ready to start this fall, if you and I and the rest of Lake County's taxpayers will just cover $419,450 of their projected two million-plus in start-up/construction costs.

Oooo. Let's see: if you're building a house, how would like the county to take 20% of the cost off your shoulders?

Yeah. I thought so.

Don't hold your breath. You, fellow home-builder, won't get that deal. State law says that tax increment financing may not be used "for the construction of residential structures." TIFs are to take out blight and promote economic development "through the promotion and advancement of industrial, commercial, manufacturing, agricultural, or natural resources." State law does include some housing projects in its definition of legitimate economic development projects that tax dollars may fund, but only housing for the elderly and the handicapped.

Lloyd reads state law, too. They won't use our money to build the apartments themselves. They'll use our money to clear and grade the lot, put in sewer and sidewalks and pavement, pay their architect, and other items authorized by tax increment finance law. To fit housing into the TIF scheme, Lloyd says expanding Madison's tight housing market is the linchpin to getting local bunnies to fart economic development rainbows:

At the present time, the number one concern in Madison, South Dakota is the lack of residential rental property. A Lake Area Improvement Corporation (LAIC) housing study was completed (2007) which demonstrated that there was need for housing development in many categories. To-date significant rental housing has not taken place to alleviate the need. In 2013 the Madison Chamber of Commerce and the Lake Area Improvement Corporation Housing Committee again determined that Madison was critically short of apartments for workforce housing.

As a result of this shortage, business which would like to expand their work force are having to put such plans on hold because there are not available living quarters for new employees. Dakota State University indicates that potential students have difficulty finding available rental property within the City of Madison, which could affect enrollment. Dakota State University also has concerns related to housing for graduates and incoming university personnel to reside within.

The development of this project will help alleviate the housing shortage, helping local businesses to expand, which will provide additional jobs and business opportunities in the commercial district of the City of Madison and Lake County [Lloyd Companies, "Tax Incremental District Number 2, Lake County, SD Project Plan," draft, August 2013].

We build apartments, workers and students can move here, and then businesses can expand—that sequence shows this TIF proposal is at least one step and maybe two removed from the direct economic development activities authorized by SDCL Chapter 9-54.

But if the legality of another residential TIF district in Madison smells a little fishy, the economics stink a lot. Lloyd cites information establishing six years of at least a perception of tight housing in Madison. All summer, I heard stories about Madison houses going on the market and selling in days. A friend said a California family bought a house for their daughter just for her to live in while studying at DSU.

If there's all this demand and so little supply, why isn't the market solving? What's stopping tool-belted entrepreneurs from putting up sticks and making easy money? Madison's high property taxes? Madison's high utility hookup and service charges? Madison's collusively low wages that that keep new workers from qualifying for mortgages?

Something is holding the market back in Madison. Do we really need government intervention via TIF to solve it?

I shouldn't have a beef with the tax increment financing concept itself. The developers and owners still pay property taxes. Their taxes still pay for public improvements, not private property that they can up and take with them or sell for profit, but streets, curbs, sidewalks, sewer lines, and other infrastructure that the community owns and benefits from. And there is merit to the notion that new housing is a useful component to a comprehensive economic development strategy.

But when we look at the big picture, TIF is a free ride. Go east on Eighth Street two blocks. You find apartment buildings there. I don't know who built them or when, but the developer of those buildings didn't get a TIF district to help make those apartments happen. That developer managed to cover his own construction bills and still pay regular taxes to support the city, school district, and county. TIF removes half of that burden from new developers, giving them an unfair advantage as they enter a tight Madison housing marketplace that ought to be drawing hordes of builders and buildings without taxpayer help.

The Lake County Planning Board apparently isn't too worried about exploring the mechanics of Madison's market failure. The board yesterday recommended the TIF 2 plan for approval. The Lake County Commission will take up the matter on Thursday, September 19, at 10 a.m.

p.s.: Lloyd is requesting this TIF through the county rather than through the city that completely encompasses the proposed district because, with one TIF already going, if the city financed this project, it wouldn't have money left to accept any more TIF requests. (Hmmm... is another ask in the chute for the city commission?) The county has a TIF for Dakota Ethanol on its books, but it still has more fiscal leeway to undertake this TIF #2.

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The Lake County Planning Board met yesterday to review a proposed tax increment finance district. If the board was reviewing for grammar and accuracy, they found a hilarious cut-and-paste error on page 5 of the August draft from TIF seeker Lloyd Companies of Sioux Falls:

Excerpt from "Tax Incremental District #2, Lake County, SD, Project Plan," Lloyd Companies, August 2013. Error highlighted by CAH

Excerpt from "Tax Incremental District #2, Lake County, SD, Project Plan," Lloyd Companies, August 2013. Error highlighted by CAH

In the middle of pasting together the vast swatches of boilerplate and baloney that go into convincing the county to cover about 20% of the construction costs for a residential project that the Madison market is screaming for, someone at the office writes "wish i am lying there too lol".

I'm at a loss to explain how that phrase could have landed in that definition. Such a simple, uncapitalized text hardly seems worth the effort of cutting and pasting from Facebook into Twitter. Did the office computer suddenly develop Bluetooth telepathy and read a bored Lloyd worker's phone?

Now if only that telepathic computer had included the picture of where that person wished he were lying... and with whom!

I'll have details and analysis on the TIF district plan itself later today; i'm not lying there lolstay tuned!

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A group of randomly selected Lake County citizens will troop to the courthouse tomorrow to see if they win a seat on the jury for Daniel Willard's robocall trial, which will treat them to lengthy discourses on South Dakota campaign finance law, the First Amendment, and the conflicts therebetween.

Oh, wait, did I say randomly?

As I understand the process, the state and Willard both get to strike three jurors. That means the first 18 names on the jury list are probably all the further down we need to go to see who's likely to hear the case.

This case is happening in Lake County because resigning Senator Russell Olson is claiming the harm (remember, Olson, calls it terrorism) from Willard's robocalls. Olson lives in the Wentworth ZIP, 57075, as do 892 other Lake County residents. Wentworth/57075 makes up 7.97% of Lake County's 11,200-person population (I'm using 2010 Census data). Those percentages would shift a bit if we were talking just legal adults eligible for jury duty, but let's roll with what we have.

Given those numbers, one would expect a list of 18 people randomly drawn from Lake County to include maybe one or two of Russ's Wentworth neighbors. Do some math, and you discover that there's a 95% chance that an 18-person random sample of Lake County residents should include no more than three Wentworthers.

The first 18 names on the Willard trial jury list include nine people from Wentworth.

Run this experiment one million times, and you should get that many 57075 residents in your jury pool three times.

In an infinite universe, anything can happen. In Lake County, anything includes a jury pool with a highly unlikely geographical bias toward the influential aggrieved party.

Tangentially Related Judicial Trivia: Did you know that it is a Class 2 misdemeanor to ask the sheriff or deputy sheriff to place yourself or anyone else on a jury? See SDCL 16-13-44. Lawyer friends, can you explain to me where that statute came from? And has anyone ever been prosecuted under it?

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The Lake County Commission went on the road Tuesday to "research" (I giggle just a little) their bike trail extension plans. Real research would have included riding their bikes out to Lake Madison.

Connecting the current spur of the bike trail that ends at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entrance (hey! FWS! Close that facility before you close the Booth Hatchery!) to the county's public access area on the southwest shore of Lake Madison. To get there, the county needs to lay about one and a quarter miles of new trail south along Highway 19, then east parallel to 236th Street, along the south edge of the remaining county poor farm land. That eastward stretch has a shelterbelt on it. The commissioners and highway superintendent Scott Mathison had the good gosh-darn sense to suggest that the county save the trees:

Once on site, the commissioners and Lake County Highway Superintendent Scott Mathison seemed to feel the north side of the trees was best. They seemed to agree that putting the trail along the road or going through the shelterbelt would likely require taking out several trees, which would be an expensive proposition.

Mathison seemed confident that the trail would work on the north side by taking out the volunteer bushes and trimming up trees. The commissioners did not take any formal vote on the matter [Jane Utecht, "County Takes Research Road Trip," Madison Daily Leader, 2013.08.21].

Yay for trees! Madison's bike trail currently runs through mostly open country. After a mile or two of leaning into the sun and stiff south wind, all pedalers will enjoy that quarter mile of shade and shelter. Keep those trees!

The county could save a little concrete by continuing the southeasterly diagonal of the first part of this trail extension right on through the Sunset Harbor development right to the public access area beach. Residents there would enjoy quick and easy bicycle access, and cyclists from town could get to the beach faster with less time spent alongside the noisy highway. Developer Dan Lemme might be interested in such a trail proposal. He met with commissioners on their road trip at Sunset Harbor and proposed that the county swap him some of its poor-farm land for the squiggly, woodsy strip of land he owns on the south shore of Herkimer Pond. Utecht's text is fuzzy here, but she reports that Lemme suggested continuing the bike path through that area for beach access. Perhaps Lemme would also support the mountain-bike loops that Tony and I think would be a great idea!

Connecting the current Madison bike path to the county's beach is a good idea. But remember: if you really want bicycle bliss, you've got to build a loop. I have my plan for a loop around Lake Herman; our county commissioners should think big and extend their current trail in a long figure out around Lake Madison and Brant Lake down to Chester and back!

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Small-town South Dakota may be struggling to prosper, but our Hutterite neighbors aren't. On Tuesday, the Lake County Commission approved a new Hutterite colony in the northeast quadrant of our county:

Gary Hofer said the colony is a branch off of Gracevale Colony, also located in Lake county.  Hofer said that when a colony gets too big, they branch off into another one.  He said that 60-to-70 members will move there to begin, but will be set up to accommodate approximately 160 people [Sue Bergheim, "New Colony to Be Built in Lake County," KJAM, 2013.07.17].

The Gracevale Colony certainly hasn't grown to its splitting point with a clever marketing scheme of signs, banners, and promotional videos. But the colony does follow one key part of the South Dakota economic playbook: relying on government interference in the free market. Over the past 17 years, the Gracevale Hutterian Brethren, Inc., have received $2.66 million in federal farm subsidies. That's still less than the farm welfare checks of Congresswoman Kristi Noem's family, but it's enough to make them the 20th-biggest recipients of USDA largesse in South Dakota. Well done, brothers!

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