Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You are my Sunshine, my only sunshine

<$BlogMetaData$>March 30th, 2011


Last week was Sunshine Week. This is celebrated by newspapers, reporters and people associated with making government “TRANSPARENT” for reporting accurately what is happening with our government agencies on the federal, state, and local level. Well this next part deserves to be in bold print because some county officials are NOT being transparent and this deserves to be brought to the public’s attention. They are laughing at us. We can’t threaten them, they are government. So There!



Shame, shame. Well, so much for the county helping Hyperion and their mission of ‘transparency’. Common decency should prevail here and they should give us an explanation. It is either that or they will be admitting by their silence that the county is about to give us the big one (shaft). You don’t suppose the county and Hyperion are in collusion do you? This has been a put up job since the very beginning. Is this state and this county hurting for money so badly that they will grovel to such low standards just to get “economic development” and to let Hyperion get their grubby paws in here? It is unconscionable that Ms. Klumper and the commissioners remain close mouth about this since the county approved Hyperion both at the Planning and Zoning level and at the Commissioners level. It is a done deal as far as they are concerned, so why can’t they release what the Argus is asking for. We have a right to know what they are doing. This is after all, still a democracy.

What does the county have to hide in its dealings with Hyperion? Or should it be turned around? Is it finally coming out of the mouse’s corner that this is a sham? Hyperion has no more intention of building a refinery than pigs can fly. Oh but there’s more. There was an ad in the Sioux City Journal Friday from Hyperion saying that they are in fact coming. They even have an office in Elk Point and it has been there since 2008. Here is the link if you would like to read OLD news. http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/special-section/local/rec/pdf_90d30d68-56fc-11e0-9862-001cc4c03286.html

When is this Silliness going to end?

I was sitting at the commissioners meeting all fat, dumb and happy when I heard the chairman asking for a motion to approve the states attorney to sign a real estate contract for purchase of 8 acres of ground at Load King for $150,000.00. I almost dropped my teeth. There had been no previous discussion about this purchase (executive session maybe), but never in public. They didn’t mention where the money was coming from; whether or not money had been budgeted for this purchase (it wasn’t); whose budget it was coming out of, or why they were going to purchase this property.

It turns out that the property is being purchased for the highway department to have more room. They thought the Load King property would be perfect since there was an offload station for trains to dump sand, gravel, rock, rip rap, and whatever to save transportation costs on stuff coming in for them to use. This is about as close as I can get to why they purchased this property. I talked to Mr. Roggow and he assured me that the opt out money is not being used to acquire this land. I thanked him for that. He said that he stands by that because he mentioned at all the meetings last summer before the vote that all the opt out money would be used for repair of roads and bridges. I told him I would be putting that in my article this week because sure as heck people are going to think it is coming from opt out funds. I still wanted to know where the money was coming from so I called Milt Ustad and he told me that it would be coming out of contingency funds.

Here is the definition of contingency funds. Pay close attention to the last sentence in this definition.

There are two reasons why families need contingency funds: for emergencies and for major expenditures.

Emergencies. A contingency fund is first an emergency fund for dealing with the unexpected. By having this money set aside and readily available, emergencies can be paid for without having to borrow.

Major expenditures. A contingency fund also can be used to finance major expenditures that are not in the operating budget:.

Whether contingency funds are used for emergencies or for major expenditures, a good rule to follow is that whenever funds are withdrawn from contingency accounts every effort should be made to rebuild the fund as quickly as possible. Naw – ain’t gonna happen.

I would imagine that the main reason for taking money out of the contingency fund is because this purchase was not allocated in the budget AND if they waited until next years budget, the property might already be sold. Now having said that, are the commissioners going to take $150,000 out of the highway department budget next year to pay for this? FAT CHANCE!

I found out by talking to Mr. Roggow that he has been saving money each year to build a new facility. He has been putting $75,000 away each year to enable him to do this. I understand he has been saving this money each year for 6 or 7 years. I was always under the presumption that if money is left over at the end of the year it goes to the general fund. Is that kosher? If that is the case, is he over estimating his budget by that much every year to have that money available?

And the beat goes on.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Who's in charge here?

<$BlogMetaData$>Who’s in charge here?

Last Tuesday’s Argus Leader had the most interesting article about the Hyperion situation. First of all, there was a statement from the Clay County commissioners that said they submitted a formal letter to the state DENR against the Hyperion project. HOLD ON here, they did what? Yes folks, all the members of the Clay County commissioners signed a letter to the DENR stating that Hyperion will bankrupt Clay County. The letter went on to say that they cannot afford the infrastructure requirements that Hyperion would press upon them. They cannot afford the emergency services, schools, roads etc that will be forced to be upgraded because of Hyperion. You can read their letter on the DENR website. Wonder when Union County Commissioners will figure this out??

Here is another article in last Tuesday’s Argus that really blows my mind. There is a quote from Union County Commission Chairman, Doyle Karpen and Elk Point Mayor, Isabel Trobaugh about the status of Hyperion. "We’re just kind of sitting and waiting," he said. "I mean, it's been three years now. (Actually it’s been 4 years Mr. Karpen) You guys know more about this than we do.”, Karpen said, adding that he's "sort of in the dark" about Hyperion's plans. He's not even sure whether the refinery is permitted. It's not."Evidently they lost my phone number after the election," he said, laughing. Mr. Karpen must have lost their number too.

Elk Point mayor Isabelle Trobough must be rowing the same boat that Mr. Karpen is on. Trobaugh said “planning for Hyperion's arrival has involved only upgrading Main Street and the city's water and sewer lines”."We're just waiting, like everyone else, to see what happens," she said. "I don't think it's going to hit us as hard as many people think. But there’s that if – are they coming in? They say they are. I don’t know.”

We supposedly have had a $10 BILLION industry coming into Union County since 2008 and our civic leaders say they don’t have a clue what is going on. The public might be dumb, but we aren’t stupid. Now really, do our commissioners and the mayor in Elk Point expect us to believe all that mumbo jumbo? Maybe they do. I’m sorry but this is no laughing matter and for Mr. Karpen to be so flippant about the situation makes one wonder whether or not he is the right man for the job. Let him keep his job as commissioner, after all he was elected by the people in his district, but replace him as the chairman. He obviously isn’t up to the job. OR, maybe he is being like Hyperion and holding proprietary information confidential because he doesn’t want the competition to know what is going on. (R-i-g-h-t)

Do you mean to tell me the only reason the mayor of Elk Point upgraded the streets, sewer, and water is for Hyperion and not for the well being of the citizens of Elk Point who pay the taxes? Ooh-h-h-h-h-h Isabelle! The mayor has a short memory. Do you remember when Ms. Trobaugh said Hyperion was coming and they had the money to build because Al Huddleston was an honorable man and she has no reason to doubt him, and that Hyperion was going to pay the $3 million to upgrade Main Street? C’mon---

My God folks, if our leaders are this out of touch, can you imagine what is going to happen when things start going wild around here?

Another thing that happened at the commissioner’s meeting was the subject of the bridge on 475th Ave. and 315th st. States Attorney Mr. Miller stated that even though this is in the Planned Development area, Hyperion doesn’t own any land there so the bridge is still the responsibility of the county. So if the county still owns the bridge and the rest of the infrastructure in the planned development because Hyperion doesn’t own any land, then it seems only logical to me that they can’t have this area zoned as a planned development because they don’t own the land. Does this make sense? If it does then p&z needs to correct themselves and remove it. (Fat chance)

Another subject that was broached at the meeting was an invitation by SECOG (southeast council of governments) to provide 4 free hours of their time to REDISTRICT the county and then only charge $50 per hour after that. Remember back before the election for commissioners that I said this was a very important election because of redistricting. Well, it seems that the commissioners were talking before the meeting and it looks like they are going to have 2 commissioners in the dunes, 1 in North Sioux City, 1 in Elk Point and 1 for the rest of the county. To me, that means that everything north of Highway 50 to the Lincoln county line and the Iowa border will have only one commissioner. Perish the thought! I have suggested in the past that this was going to happen and they should increase the number of commissioners from 5 to 7. This would soothe some of the ruffled feathers that are going to come about because of redistricting, and give us adequate representation to the commission board. Surely we are not going to sit back and take this without a say so in the process are we? We do have the VOTE!

My real question is why they are letting SECOG do it. Maybe the commissioners just don’t want to take the guff from people who will be upset with the changes. I don’t think the commissioners are up to redistricting and I don’t think they are up to handling Hyperion. They will just make things worse. So my question is still, who’s in charge here?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

when do we reach the tipping point?

<$BlogMetaData$>When do we reach the tipping point?

I have been mulling over in my mind the events of the last 4 years and suddenly wondered when we will reach the tipping point on industries coming into Union County. For me this whole scenario started with the new zoning ordinance allowing Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) to be built closer to homes (acreages) than previously allowed. I fought long and hard to get the new ordinance defeated. We carried petitions and worked the county hard and we won, but it took its toll. It was a very stressful time in my life. We did it once and succeeded, do we have to do it again?

It ended up that we had the ordinance repealed by a vote of the county. But wait a minute, during the latter days of the campaign we learned that there would be an oil refinery coming to union county and it would be a HUGE one. They were called Hyperion Resources, from Dallas Texas. Now in addition to the CAFO’s we had a refinery to worry about. We were rewriting the ordinance and now had to worry about how Hyperion was going to fit in. They were taking out options on thousands of acres of land until they got land that was contiguous, then they quit.

We went through a public hearing joke with the Planning and zoning, and then it was chapter 2 with the County Commissioners. This issue was brought to a vote and heavy voting by Dakota Dunes carried it through and lo and behold the county approved an oil refinery. This is where all of us opposed to the refinery started to puke. Mind you, this was 2007. Then it was 2008 and Hyperion got the vote of the county to build. 2009 was the Board of Minerals and Environment with the air permit. Then in late 2010 they announced it wasn’t economically feasible to build a refinery because of the state of the economy and it would be built in 2012. Well, late in 2010 Mr. Eric Williams and Dick white announced that shovels would be in the ground in the summer of 2011. It is like waiting for the other shoe to drop. They are just waiting until we give up. There are so many stories going around that one doesn’t know what to believe anymore.

What I’m alluding to in all this is do we have enough fight to try to battle other industries that may be coming to Union County. What kind of opposition will there be? Are we becoming elitists and saying we don’t want any economic development here? Is there anything worse than a refinery? How do we decide what is acceptable and what isn’t? Are we going to go through the turmoil again of friends and neighbors not speaking to each other because of what may or may not be coming to Union County? Where does it end? It is like someone has opened Pandora’s Box and we can’t close it now.

If something else comes in and trust me, they will be coming; do we resign ourselves that this is economic growth? We could find each other on opposite side of the fence again. I think we need to do some soul searching and decide what each of us is willing to give up being able to live the rest of our lives in peace and harmony. What are you willing to accept as a standard for what is allowable in the county and our lives? Like, who died and left us in charge?

We are going to have to do this with every industry that might come along, and they are all going to come to Union County for one reason. We have laws that are not written for anything but agriculture and a p&z that will allow a dog to get a permit.

They have waged a successful campaign so far, and like the old saying goes, if they have the money, you can’t stop them. We can have this in the courts for the next ten years and what have we gained? Zilch, nada, zip cause they have made up their minds this is where it is going to be and that’s it. While we are fighting one industry, another will just take its place.

So I guess I’m just facing reality and resigning myself that the world is changing; some for the better and some for the worse. I only hope those who make these decisions do it wisely. I guess quality of life and love of the land doesn’t mean squat. If we are not good stewards of the land, we will suffer the consequences.

In the SCJ on Sunday was an article about Hyperion. They were quoting Cindy Schield from API (American Petroleum Institute), that the high gas prices will have little to do with whether or not Hyperion decides to build a refinery. The local economy will not see low gas prices even if Hyperion builds because of two issues; the law of supply and demand, and that gas prices are controlled by the speculators in the commodities market. I have been saying this forever, and it is really nice to see someone who works in the industry to be saying this. She does not see Hyperion as a player, because Hyperion doesn’t even belong to the API. Now what does that tell you?

What is our destiny in life? Is it behind door #1, door #2, or door #3?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

You can't push a rope uphill

<$BlogMetaData$>You can’t push a rope up the hill.

I swear, the way the County Commissioners treat a budget is like trying to push a rope uphill. They really got their knickers in a wad this year and emphatically said to the county employees “no raises.” And that is where it ended. Oh, that didn’t include a $100 dollar a month stipend increase for the chairman of the commission. Ross Jordan said that the commissioner works so hard and puts in so much extra time that he is deserving of an extra $100 a month, so slam bam thank you ma’am they gave Doyle a raise. AND he humbly accepted it, thank you. I would think he would want to set an example for the county employees that the commissioners should take a cut in pay not a raise. He just sat there and had a little smirk on his face.

I guess there is no such thing as a budget being set in stone is there? It was just 2 months ago that the sheriff came to the commissioners and asked for a new Pick-up truck because one of the sheriff’s cars is on its last leg, and the department wants to start converting the fleet to pick-ups to make it easier to traverse the back roads of the county to better serve the residents. He also advised the commissioners that he had extra money in the budget to pay for it. So rather than turn the money back into the general fund like he should do, the board said to go with it. The sheriff had already been looking for a replacement vehicle because Fanta-C-Auto had one that was just what the sheriff needed. So again, slam bam thank you ma’am the deal was done. Now, I’m not 100% sure that the deputies get to take these vehicles home with them when their shift is done, but I think they do.

Well, at the commissioners meeting this week, the commissioners were talking among themselves that there was a request before the commission for a new 4 x 4 vehicle, preferably a pickup, so that the county employees and the county assessor could make better use of the employees time by having a pick up to drive around in so they didn’t have to pack a car full of the stuff they needed to do assessments of the homes in the county. The commissioners joked about them wanting a Suburban or a Tahoe. (Chuckle chuckle) they couldn’t really decide what to get and to go out for bids they had to be specific because they can’t just call a dealer and say ‘hey I need a pick-up.’ So they called Dot Kistner up to the meeting to talk about her needs. She said they needed a bigger vehicle so they could all fit into it with their stuff when they go out assessing. The commissioners asked her how many miles she would drive a week, since this would be a big factor in deciding what type of vehicle to get. (We haven’t even talked money or budget yet). She told them they just finished doing Wynstone and are going into North Sioux City and that would be mostly city driving. The commissioners asked how fast they needed to go and Dot replied 65mph. (speed limit on county roads is 55) but that most of the time they would be just parking the vehicle and walking. She also said that it would be 3 to 5 years before they got out into the rural areas. The commissioners thanked her for her input. Doesn’t anyone worry that with the price of gas headed to $5 a gallon that a pick-up or SUV might be a bit expensive to operate? Or doesn’t the county worry about things like that since they buy bulk gas?

Whoa here Nelly! Is Dot trying to say the Assessor’s office will be driving more than 40,000 miles a year? That is a lot of miles when you don’t even leave the county. I don’t believe the assessor’s office has someone in the field 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. The commissioners were inferring that in three to five years they would get her a new vehicle for driving in the rural areas? I could hardly believe what I was hearing. BUDGET GUYS, BUDGET! Where the heck is all this money coming from to buy all these new vehicles? Does anyone in the county keep track of the maintenance costs on a regular basis for each vehicle? Is it really necessary we travel in such comfort? Do we really need a new vehicle for the assessor or can we make do with maybe a good USED vehicle? This county just had to opt out for $550,000 because there isn’t enough money in the coffers to keep up with trying to make sure the infrastructure doesn’t take a dump on us and the commissioners are talking getting some NEW (different) vehicles. My-my -my -my -my.

There was an article in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader last month about the Minnehaha commissioners shuffling money between agencies in the county to enable them to complete certain projects before the bad weather sets in. there are other examples but the ruling that came down was yes, the commissioners can do this IF it means not having delays etc. I think our commissioners eyes lit up when they read this, because they have been shuffling money in the county for years.

Last year, they took $46,000+ from the budget of Mr. Sexton (building custodian) to pay for the parking lot across the street from the court house. They took $25,000+ from the budget of Mr. Roggow (Highway department) to pay for the easement of the old weigh station down in North Sioux City. They still have to find the money to build the road because nothing has been budgeted for this year. Now maybe one can understand why I go to all these meetings, when all this money can be spent and they blame it on the employees for overspending and not themselves for being so frivolous. Just goes to show you, that you CANNOT push a rope uphill.