My first year as a county commissioner proved much more challenging than I expected. Openings in the zoning office with our administrator on medical leave led right into spring flooding, horrible road conditions and financial uncertainties for the county. All of these obstacles required extra hours from the commissioners; and I would like to thank the other commissioners for putting in the extra time and effort required as well as the county employees who offered support. Our Highway and Emergency Management Departments also did a fantastic job getting roads closed to keep people safe, and getting them back open when conditions allowed, for not one but two disasters within the county.
I had much optimism that 2020 would be a year of progress, but recent events have given me pause for concern.
I attended a community forum in Irene on Saturday night regarding four townships wanting to leave the county to either start their own county or join Turner County. There has been talk of this departure from Yankton County for several years now, but last Saturday night marked the first step in making it a reality.
The forum was well attended with many citizens from both counties attending to learn the process of leaving the county, the potential costs associated with such a move and asking “why”? Turner County residents expressed concern of taking on more area and roads. Yankton County residents expressed concerns of taxes.
Lack of road maintenance and restricting animal production were reasons as to “why.” To very briefly address both of these concerns.
This commission acknowledges that Yankton County has to do a better job preserving the roads we have and I feel that we are moving in the right direction. We have assigned priority to roads and committed to more frequent chip seals and maintenance to preserve what we have. Please review the recent Highway Task Force report and our updated 5-Year Plan for reference.
Regarding animal production, I believe there are too many rumors surrounding potential ordinance changes to be addressed, but I will touch on a couple.
The emcee of the meeting has made comments regarding changes to the ordinance made by this commission that have restricted animal production in the county and said that the county now requires operators having only one chicken to get an annual state permit.
There have been no changes to the ordinance in the past year — zero. And requiring a state permit for one chicken is not only preposterous, but is simply not true. Citing falsehoods to coerce a group of people to leave a county is dangerous, dishonest and deceitful.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has discussed making changes regarding animal agriculture, but to date, the only changes that they have come to some consensus on are less restrictive than the current ordinance, not more restrictive.
Those discussions have recently been put on hold due to the Board of Adjustment enacting emergency zoning in Yankton County. This was a direct response to a challenge to changes made to the ordinance in 2006, which if confirmed, will leave uncertainties, questions and possible litigation to 14 years of zoning. The board found such a challenge to the ordinance to be an emergency and took provisions to safeguard our laws. I cannot stress enough that the emergency zoning ordinance is no different than the current zoning ordinance. No changes.
Even if the accusations were true, is seceding from the county the best option at this point? It seems that this should be a card held onto tightly, only to be played as the “nuclear option.”
One woman from Turner County asked the leaders of the meeting why they don’t simply run for office or get involved in local government if they are concerned. I have to agree that would be the first logical course of action and have asked that question myself. The response has always been that rural residents simply wouldn’t have the votes to get into office because they cannot compete with residents of the city of Yankton. To this, readers should be reminded of the numerous, recent chances to get involved and help shape Yankton County. Five years ago, a hog farmer from rural Yankton was elected to office. Just three years ago, current County Commissioner Gary Swensen walked into office unopposed. With no other names on the ballot, Swensen seized his opportunity to get involved. The same opportunity was extended to all citizens, regardless of their geographical location within the county. In the spring of 2019, there were three open seats on the Planning and Zoning Commission and not one individual organizing a county separation applied. Is “competing with Yankton (city)” a valid argument?
Those individuals organizing the separation of the county have every right to do so, but I am concerned the outcome of this movement will have damaging, long-lasting effects on the county for years to come, regardless of its success.
The commission recognizes there are areas of Yankton County that have felt neglected for many years, and we have held town hall meetings and road task force meetings in various parts of the county monthly for the past year in an attempt to mitigate that sentiment. We want to work together to ensure all facets of the county of Yankton are reflected in our policies and daily operations.
I encourage those taking a leadership role in leaving the county to take a step back, engage in conversations regarding ordinance changes, contact myself and other officials when you hear things that you do not agree with and give the process a fair shake. To make such a drastic move based off of assumptions and rumors may have damaging consequences that could be avoided through education and collaboration.
Let’s work together, let’s throw out the rumors and let’s make a county that we all feel to be a valuable part of. The intent of the Yankton County Commission is not to stop anybody’s way of life, but to ensure growth may be looked at as a success and not a burden.