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Spearfish Annexation Bad for Local Agriculture, Unnecessary for Housing

My neighbors living on the northwest edge of Spearfish successfully beat back the city's latest annexation push last month. By pointing out that the Spearfish City Council didn't follow the law, they got the city to put off dragging the Evans Lane neighborhood under the city's control until next spring.

The most obvious point of contention in the Spearfish annexation debate is taxes. The city wants folks in that neighborhood to pay their fair share for public services they enjoy, and annexation would extend those services. Residents along Evans Lane, in what we call the Upper and Lower Valley, can answer that they already pay taxes in town and that they can get by fine without the added services and costs annexation would bring.

Jeremy Smith and Trish Jenkins may have an even better argument for keeping the city out of the Valley. They run Cycle Farm, one of a number of small farms in the Valley that provide good local food to the Spearfish market. Despite the city's promises, annexation could easily put Cycle Farm out of business:

According to the annexation study and our City Administrator, the valley’s remaining open space and agricultural land is “underutilized land”. Land in the County has a minimum lot size of 2 acres per residence. Under City zoning, the potential number of houses per acre increases dramatically. This means the land that is currently agricultural or open space will become much more valuable as potential housing developments.

Access to land is one of the biggest hurdles facing new farmers today. Having substantial increases over the already high price of land makes it that much harder to get started – or continue – in farming. We understand the City has offered to grandfather-in certain ag-related elements and operations. This is great for those of us using the land for ag purposes right now, but it removes this possibility on parcels of land not currently utilizing them. This limits options available for beginning farmers as well as homeowners looking to become more self-sufficient. Spearfish Valley is one of the best spots for growing vegetables in Western South Dakota. Sacrificing this resource is not a sound option for the long term resiliency of this community and is in direct discord with our agricultural heritage ["Farm Preserves," Cycle Farm, 2012.08.30].

That the city would regard productive agricultural land as "underutilized" lays bare the faults of both our lust for housing development and our property tax system. We've dug up, housed up, and paved over much of the fertile land along Spearfish Creek. The remaining good land, an agricultural oasis right next to town in otherwise arid, thin-soiled country, is currently being put to its best use, feeding the neighborhood.

Housing developers like Joe Jorgensen and Jim Benning, who are already getting plenty of favors from the city to boost their profits, can build houses that will sell almost anywhere around Spearfish. Look at the Sandstone development Jorgensen and Benning built: it was built up the hill, a bit of a drive from downtown, and it's doing just fine. (Sandstone also has a

Folks looking to farm out here don't have nearly as many spots to choose from. Annexation would raise land prices in the Valley and make it even harder for folks wanting into the farming business to move in and replace those who want out. And eventually, perhaps inevitably under annexation, Cycle Farm and other local growers disappear from our market.

The city would make more tax revenue if it carved up all of the Valley and put nice houses on it. But those of us who still revolt at Kelo v. New London understand that the tax system should not price any homeowner out of her favorite spot or any industry out of its most fruitful location.

The Upper and Lower Valley are not "underutilized"; they are being utilized just right, providing economic opportunity and diversity for Spearfish, not to mention healthy, sustainably grown food. Let's protect Cycle Farm and other local producers from annexation.


  1. larry kurtz 2012.11.26

    Spearditch is just a bigger Alpena where the good ol' boy network owns City Hall.

  2. Dana Palmateer 2012.11.26

    I was very happy to see it that the city got "called" on their ways in how they were attempting to annex. And their "divide and conquer" strategy is very transparent. Hopefully all of the residents that are in the proposed areas to be annexed can stick together as a group, rather than sticking their heads in the sand and saying, "well, it doesn't affect me."

    Maybe the city wouldn't feel the need to have to annex Upper and Lower Valley if they hadn't given away the farm on TIF's to their chosen golden haired developers. The absolute "myth" that we Lawrence Countians use so much of city services is bull pucky.

    Perhaps the city should try to recruit more employers that will actually pay their employees a living wage. Rather than continue their efforts to try to gobble up the little guys, and give away the farm to the chosen few.

  3. Matejka 2012.11.26

    As long as this state continues to depend so heavily on the property/sales tax revenue model, developers will rule. Of course, the only way we will ever be able to explore other revenue streams will be if lower and middle class taxpayers in this state finally realize how they are being unfairly burdened with this incredibly regressive system. . . . It would also help if Spearfish leaders were more concerned with helping the community than with lining the pockets of their cronies.

  4. Andrew 2012.12.01

    I must disagree here and say that I do think some of the population near Spearfish but not in city limits does in fact benefit from the city without paying for all of it. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that they should get rid of the farms and the general style of the vally but as we all know Spearfish does what Spearfish wants...and they would make a ton more lots for overpriced houses...THAT is why I'm no longer outright advocating annexation.
    Let me explain what I mean. There are things in the city such as the library and all the parks that are taken care of by the city but don't have any kind of 'admission charge'. That could be argued of out of county-ers as well. So let me be give a more specific example.
    Fire protection...
    Right now the Spearfish Fire Department is primarily funded (I can't remember exact but I think it was around 90 percent?) by city tax funds. We have a lot of good support through their donation drives and stuff but thats like trying to fund a police department through bake sales. So I as a resident of the city pay my taxes which in part go to the FD. My neighbor across the road does not. Lets assume we are both grinches and don't donate to the FD...that means that I essentially am paying for his free fire protection.
    That is the kind of thing that bothers me. It could be fixed by a fair fire protection district tax but we all KNOW that would be rejected by the Spearfishian anti-tax people no one likes taxes but the thing is that it would be the most fair ever person pays the same small amount for fire instead of selling pies to put out grass fires!

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.01

    Andrew, city residents can make that very reasonable argument. Valley folks enjoy some city services, but not others. I wonder: in its annexation studies, has the city figured out a percentage of city services that Valley folks regularly use? Could we then compare that number to the percentage of city taxes Valley resident pay via sales taxes compared to the tax burden of sales and property taxes city folks pay?

  6. Dana P. 2012.12.02

    I would hope we wouldn't ever get in the "splitting hairs" game, but I worry that we will. I'm one of those Law County residents who is supposedly using so much of those city services without paying one red nickel for them. With the exception of Guadalahara's and Crow Peak, what are my options to go out to eat, entertainment, grocery shopping, have my car serviced, my hair cut, my hardware supplies, etc etc?? Yep, you guessed it. I drive right into the City of Spearfish, spend alot of my money, and get charged a tax on each of my many purchases. Which I presume, goes into the coffers to pay for things like the library (which I don't use), the police (which I don't use), the fire department (which thank goodness, I haven't had to use yet - but they would repond to my house if I did have a fire) and parks and other city services that I may or may not use.

    I DO pay very high real estate taxes already, which goes in part to the fire department, and schools, etc. I don't have any children - but I'm paying for the children of others to get educated. In my sarcastic voice, I want to say, "well, I don't want to pay for schools anymore since I don't have any children". Of course I don't believe that. I'm glad that my taxes go to education the children of our future. That's a good thing! But I think that is the "splitting hairs" argument we get into with this "us versus them" disagreement (on who pays what and who gets what)

    As has happened many times before, a tourist driving through the city who either gets in a car accident or their RV catches on fire - of COURSE the police or fire will respond and tend to business. Whether that person has paid taxes in this city or not.

    The point of my long rant is this....if the city wants to make a case to annex us in Lower or Upper Valley, then they need to make the case without saying that us Law County residents are "hogging" all of the city services and not paying one single penny. That just is not the case. (We Law County residents spend ALOT of money in the City of Spearfish) Do city residents drive, EVER, on Upper or Lower Valley roads? Or on Highway 14? Or other county roads? Of course they do!! The city is trying to "pit" city residents against Upper/Lower Valley residents in order to rally support for the annexation. In the argument for the annexation (which, by the way, will cost me an add'l $580/year in property taxes), has the city made decisions to add more police, public works employees, traffic engineering, etc? No. They will add more folks needing services without growing their employee base in order to handle the additional services necessary. Which, in turn, would cause a strain on services.

    It would be much more effective/enlightening to take a deep look at how this city uses the current tax dollars. The "give aways" (TIFS, as one example) to developers and others in the city are amazing. All of the multi-thousand dollar studies? The purchase of the photographs? The re-do (over and over) of Main Street? Holding the city leaders more accountable on those decisions, would be eye opening, I believe.

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