A portion of Yankton County could soon be splitting off for what some believe are greener pastures in Turner County.
Saturday evening, a forum was held to discuss the possibility of Turkey Valley, Mayfield, Walshtown and Marindahl townships — with more potentially joining — leaving the county, citing the Yankton County’s handling of agriculture issues.
The forum attracted a large crowd at the Irene Community Center and was emceed by Simon Healy of Mayfield Township.
“How our county’s handling livestock proceedings and buildings right now has been quite negative in the community,” Healy said. “It’s getting to a point where it’s quite worrisome.”
He recalled a public forum at Stockmen’s Livestock in Yankton last fall where it was made clear who the real power brokers are in the county.
“One of the (county) commissioners said that now that the city of Yankton understands that they can vote and win, we are in the minority as the ag district out here,” he said. “And no matter what we do, from here on out, we will lose. That just kind of hit me like a sledgehammer that something’s got to be done.”
It was announced at the meeting that the assessed value of the four townships is $212,761,000 with 104 miles of roads, 48 miles of which are paved.
Healy said that the move isn’t being contemplated as a means of building a bunch of new CAFOs.
“This is not to go to Turner County, by any means, to build feedlots or hog barns,” he said. “This is to let farmers be farmers who don’t have to worry about, if we want to build something, if it’s going to get taken away or if you’re going to have to get a CUP (conditional-use permit) on one chicken that my daughter might want in the house next door. It’s just certain things they’ve implicated or are trying to implicate that make us want to go somewhere different that appreciates what we’re doing. It has nothing to do with building anything extra.”
On hand to discuss the processes for breaking away from the county was Sioux Falls attorney Brian Donohoe, who said that the proposal is very new territory for him — and the state itself.
“To my knowledge, it’s not been done in modern times here in South Dakota,” Donohoe said. “As Simon mentioned, there is no blueprint or procedure that has been followed in the past.
However, there are provisions for two processes in state statute for moving county borders.
Under the first provision, set out by SDCL 7-2, the four townships could have boundaries redrawn to join an adjacent county. There would need to be a petition in two different counties — in Yankton County, the petition would need to gather valid signatures from at least 15% of registered county voters in favor of a vote on the issue while in Turner County, a petition would have to be signed by 15% of registered voters. The petition in Yankton County would have to be filed by the first County Commission meeting in July with the expectation it would go on the November general election ballot. During the election, the majority in Yankton County, the townships and Turner County would have to vote in favor for the results to be valid. If successful, the changes would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.
In the other provision, the townships could go on to form their own county entirely. Under this, there would need to be at least 24 congressional townships (Donohoe pointed out that most townships have upwards of 36 to begin with) within the area of land. A petition with valid signatures from at least 15% registered voters in the area wanting to break off of the county would be required to set an election. A majority vote would again be needed of Yankton County and the affected area as well. The new county would then need to either provide or contract for the services that all counties are required to provide. From there, the new county could then petition to join an adjacent county such as Turner or Clay counties using the first process.
Donohoe said that neither option is necessarily an easy one to get through Yankton County.
“We’ve got 13,700 registered voters in Yankton County,” he said. “I was looking at some figures that are not official, but I think there’s over 8,000 just in the city of Yankton alone. … You’re going to have an uphill battle because there is the center of power in Yankton County. If you want to get a majority of the votes that are cast, you’re going to have to win Yankton city.”
He said Turner County voters would also need to be convinced that this would be more of a benefit than a burden.
“You’re going to have to face some questions and you’re going to have to make sure that those who have concerns about a change like this and they’re taking on burdens like a new set of townships are going to be satisfied that it’s not going to cost more for their tax dollars and it’s not going to cost them ore time or hassle,” he said.
Donohoe has also represented a number of producers in Yankton County during ongoing litigation. During Saturday’s meeting, he noted that he’d been asked by Healy to discuss the separation processes and was not directly representing anyone in connection with a potential split at this particular time.
Following the meeting, Healy said petitions will start to be circulated after proponents decide on a firm direction.
“We got new info about creating our own county that was just brought to us (Friday), so we’ve got to decide if we’re going to make ourselves our own county, or if we’re going to just vote to join Turner County,” he said. “That’s the two separate ways and we’ve got to find out which way we’re going to go and then we’re going to write the petition accordingly.”
He said officials in Turner County seem open to the prospect of the townships joining their county.
“Oct. 15, I attended the commission meeting in Turner County and I visited with them first about all of this because they would have to be the ones that accept us eventually — whether we do our own county or we join them right away,” he said. “They didn’t say no. Visiting more with (Ross) “Mick” Miller — a county commissioner up there — he informed me they had a meeting (Friday) with all the heads of the departments up there to discuss this. Every one of them was in consensus that it was OK with them.”
Healy said it’s unfortunate that such drastic measures are being looked into, but that little choice exists at this point.
“It’s sad that it’s gotten this far with our county,” he said. “It isn’t something relatively new that’s been going on, it’s just slowly come to a head right now and it needs to change. We need to change the way our community is being run and I think going to Turner County would be beneficial.”
The Press & Dakotan reached out to Yankton County Commission chairman Dan Klimisch for reaction but received no reply before press time.
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