Around this time last year, I delivered a “State of Our County” presentation to the community. As I revisited some of the goals outlined for 2020, nowhere did I find the words “respond to pandemic.” Even though the flood of 2019 had a great impact on our county physically and financially, the 2020 coronavirus has affected all of us in a more profound way. It truly touched every citizen in our county, with some paying the ultimate price.
Like so many of our businesses, our county team adapted to working from home and rotating shifts until we understood more about this virus. We transitioned to more online services while still maintaining a level of community participation. Our emergency response team played a central role in organizing key folks to inform, plan and respond. Our emergency medical responders adapted quickly and endured a large uptick in service calls. The inmates in our care were kept safe, and that was no easy task.
Threading all of this together was the monumental effort put forth by our buildings and maintenance team. Like so many businesses in our community, they ensured our public spaces were thoroughly sanitized, minimizing exposure for our citizens and our staff. Their extra efforts met the challenge, allowing the county’s business to still be done.
Now that we’ve finally caught our breath from 2020, what’s ahead for 2021? While not exhaustive, the following list outlines a few important topics we are addressing:
• We are currently in the process of amending the agricultural zone of our ordinance (Article 5). The Commission held several public meetings to listen to citizens and also to deliberate the pros and cons of any proposed changes. It’s tough to find compromise. The Commission took a holistic view of the entire section, with a give-and-take approach. I highly encourage citizens to read the proposed changes located on our website (www.co.yankton.sd.us).
• Our highway team has a busy agenda ahead. Six bridges are planned for replacement, and 58.75 miles of chip seal are scheduled, including: 436th (north of Hwy 46), Lesterville Road (300th), Tabor Road (306th), 301st (444th to 452nd), 448th (south of Hwy 46), Bluff Road (east of Volin) and 451st (south of Gayville). We were awarded a $600,000 Agri-Business Grant to upgrade East Side Drive. A timeline for this project is not final. Though we applied for a Bridge Improvement Grant (BIG) for Stone Church Bridge, we were unsuccessful. Our next step is to consider proceeding with the engineering phase of the project, which adds 10 points to our BIG score for the next application deadline.
• Last year we spent $201,500 for juvenile detention. In response, the commission is considering a three-year grant program designed to avoid incarceration. As an alternative, juveniles are closely supervised and offered controlled paths within our community versus detainment in Sioux Falls. Once the grant expires, a return-on-investment analysis will be completed to determine if this program is reducing net expenditures and whether it should be continued.
• Yankton County was fortunate to receive $2.5 million in Cares Act funding for 2020. These dollars were used to pay for unanticipated virus costs and also for sheriff, jail, emergency medical services and nurse salaries. As a result, almost $1 million in unspent budget dollars were assigned to our highway department for James River bridge projects. If the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is approved by Congress and signed by the president, our county will receive additional funding. We are still waiting for clarification of the amount and requirements for eligible expenses.
• The status of marijuana in our state continues to fluctuate. Once the South Dakota Supreme Court rules on Amendment A and the Legislature finalizes their intent, we plan to work with all municipalities in our county to map a path forward.
• The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was scheduled to release a preliminary update to the FEMA flood maps early in 2021 with a targeted effective date of mid-2022. As with most things, their schedule was impacted as well. The latest information on this process is located at https://bit.ly/3gMYYTX.
• One of the biggest challenges for 2020 was effective communication. Much emphasis was placed on virtual delivery with in-person meetings being minimized. For 2021, we look to revive the town hall meetings and discussions with township boards. We find these gatherings productive and encourage citizens to attend when possible.
We will continue to share updates on these items via the newspaper, our website and our Facebook page. I encourage you to contact any of the commissioners if you have questions or concerns.
In closing, sincere thanks to all for patiently adapting and for continuing to support front-line response teams and local businesses. Going from fifth gear to neutral is tough. It’s even tougher shifting back into first gear while pointed uphill.
Best wishes for a quieter, calmer and dare I say normal 2021.
Cheri Loest is chairperson of the Yankton County Commission.