Sep. 29—Property owners in Davison County took to the county commission meeting to publicly air their grievances Tuesday, claiming work on their property was either completed improperly or never completed at all.
Merl Bechen owns a large plot of land just outside the southwest corner of Mitchell's city limits.
In 2017, the city of Mitchell entered into an agreement with Davison County and property owners like Bechen to improve water drainage systems between Spruce Street and Interstate 90.
The project included — among other work — the replacement of culverts under the two roads and the installation of a cattle crossing through the drainage field on the north end of Bechen's field, which abuts the interstate.
Officials gave the project an estimated completion date of Nov. 22, 2017. Nearly four years later, Bechen came to the Davison County Commission meeting on Tuesday saying the project still hasn't been completed, and that the wrong culverts had been installed.
"Culvert size needs to be to the plan of three culverts, six by four, on Spruce. Every plan in the document states that is what will be used," Bechen said. "Put the current culverts in that we agreed to. That was an agreement."
Bechen told the commission that enough time has passed since the project's initial completion date, and though it's been dry as of late, periods of wetness isolate him from parts of his land.
Davison County Planning and Zoning Administrator Jeff Bathke assured Bechen and the commission that there's "no question" a cattle crossing will be installed to connect Bechen with his land, but said the culverts in place are not reaching water flow capacity, and that replacing them would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
"It doesn't do any good to replace those culverts until we replace the culverts on I-90," Bathke said. "I'm not going to spend half a million dollars in county tax dollars for a problem that doesn't exist."
Commissioner John Claggett told Bechen that the cooperative project has "a thousand moving parts," but assured him that the commission will continue discussion to resolve the issue.
Steve Thiesse, a rural Mitchell resident, also took to the meeting to comment about water issues on his property after the city re-sloped his ditch in 2015 to install a pipeline to connect the James River to Lake Mitchell.
Since the construction, Thiesse said water no longer runs through his culvert, and while cleaning it recently, he discovered that important drainage poles were removed.
Thiesse noted that his property and home has flooded before, and the county has paid him to redo his basement, but he's hoping the county will help him take up a project to avoid future issues with standing water.
"I've been to the city, I've talked to lots of people. Nobody wants to do anything," Thiesse said. "Right now, I need somebody to take some action. I'm getting to be an old man, I don't want to have to fight or pump water."
Commissioner Denny Kiner requested to Chairperson Brenda Bode that the commission contact Planning and Zoning Administrator Bathke on behalf of Thiesse to investigate a resolution.
Other commission business
Davison County Highway Department
Rusty Weinberg, superintendent of the Davison County Highway Department, updated the commission on his department's progress on roadways over the year and provided an outlook for 2022 through 2026.
Twelve bridges were labeled as a "priority" for preservation or replacement through 2026, at an estimated cost of $450,000 per preservation and up to $1.2 million per replacement. The commission approved a preliminary expectation of $12.6 million in local expenditures on road replacements and improvements through 2026. The county will continue to seek state and federal grants to offset some of those costs.
Davison County Courthouse projects
The commission approved an expenditure to replace air conditioning systems at the Davison County Courthouse. A $74,000 bid was accepted to contract with Arctic Refrigeration, based in Mitchell. The bid was estimated to be nearly $30,000 less than what the commission had originally estimated. The lead time on supplies for the updates is 21 weeks.
Joel Rang, director of physical plants for Davison County, requested approval to rent a lift from Sam Houston Equipment Co. in Sioux Falls to address tree damage at the Davison County Courthouse, replace lights in the parking lot of the Davison County Public Safety building and complete other miscellaneous tasks. The lift would cost $520 per week for one or two weeks of use. The commission approved, noting it would be cheaper than hiring the projects out.
County employee sick leave policy amendments
Davison County Human Resources Director Tonya Meaney requested to amend the county's sick leave policies. Meaney requested that the commission add an exemption to allow employees to use accrued sick leave before reaching a 90-day milestone of employment, if they have a doctor's diagnosis of COVID-19.
She also sought an amendment that would decrease the number of days an employee can be sick without a doctor's note from five to three, citing that staff who work rotating shifts could currently take advantage of a loophole and cannot face repercussions for extended absences. Sheriff Steve Harr acknowledged that loophole has caused an issue in the jail before.
The commission deferred consideration of Meaney's proposals, asking that Meaney prepare a copy of the current policies with the amendments so the commission could see what the policy would look like as a whole.