Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, March 22

Arena vote hardly a reason to celebrate

It was around noon Tuesday when Tonchi Weaver sent a news release to the media proclaiming victory in her bid to refer the Barnett Arena project to a public vote. "It's a great day for our Republic and for the voters of Rapid City," she wrote.

Even though the city is just beginning to verify if Weaver's Citizens for Liberty group has the necessary 2,095 signatures from local registered voters, the victory dance had begun, which included a broadside swipe at a favorite target: Rapid City government.

"Our goal has been reached," she continued in the release. "The citizens will make the final decision and we hope the city is done playing games."

So, what is this group really celebrating?

Even if they succeed in stopping the construction of a modern $130 million arena, it won't reduce anyone's taxes. It just means the city will spend at least $25 to $30 million in Vision Funds — the same earmarked source that would be used to build a new arena — to make modest improvements to a 41-year-old facility that has become less desirable with time.

If the city goes with the patchwork plan the Citizens for Liberty now endorses, it does little to stem the tide of declining sales tax revenue the city collects from the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, which includes Barnett Arena.

According to the city, attendance is down 25 percent there since around 2009, a decline that would certainly be greater if the Rapid City Rush weren't playing in the Ice Arena built in 2008 at a cost of $25.7 million.

If the city collects less sales tax from events at Barnett Arena and fewer customers are eating, drinking, shopping and staying in Rapid City, it means the city likely will someday have to offer either fewer services or consider raising property taxes to maintain those services that get more costly with time.

It that something to celebrate?

The special election also poses a threat to the Vision Fund, a half-cent sales tax collected from locals, visitors and tourists since 1972 when 63 percent of the voters approved it to build the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, which has generated millions of dollars in revenue for the city over the years.

If attendance continues to decline at the now antiquated Barnett Arena, however, it means less revenue for the Vision Fund that has funded numerous quality-of-life projects in the community. It also will hurt many employers and employees who are working, spending money and paying taxes in Rapid City.

Is that something to celebrate?

The city council-approved plan does not raise anyone's taxes either, yet allows the city to build an entertainment venue that will serve the community for another 30 or 40 years, providing new jobs, business opportunities, sales tax revenue and another way to showcase the assets of an area that has not yet reached its full potential.

The Citizens for Liberty plan puts the city in a holding pattern, which means Rapid City will slip further behind other communities that understand the value of investing in the future.

Is that something to celebrate?

Citizens for Liberty is clearly an opponent of the new arena plan and city government in general. If the signatures are validated, it will be the second time this year the group has referred a city council decision to voters. These are the wins it celebrates as it works to hold the council accountable to its no-growth agenda. It is by no means a win for the republic. Citizens have and will continue to have the right to vote.

In a few weeks, Rapid City voters will decide what they really want to celebrate — the past or prospects for the future. It will be a critical election for a city that needs to look ahead or fall behind.

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Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, March 20

Revenue During The Winter Months

Yankton is enjoying a nice run in rising sales tax revenues, which is certainly good news, especially since things weren't looking nearly so bright a year ago.

After the first two months of the year, the city's revenue is up more than 5 percent from this point last year, when soft returns had city officials making contingency cuts to their budgets. But things picked up in the last half of 2017, and that rally has carried over into this not-so-New Year.

In discussing the current good trend, City Manager Amy Nelson noted that, among other things, the city produced good revenue numbers in January and February, which are normally "lighter months" in terms of receipts. While speculating on the reason for the uptick, she cited such events as January's indoor soccer tournament and last month's World Archery Indoor Championships as potential factors in why Yankton saw a good winter in terms of revenue.

That should sound at least vaguely familiar if you've listened to discussions regarding Yankton tourism in recent years.

Yankton has grown into a great tourism venue — reportedly, it is the most popular tourism destination in South Dakota outside of the Black Hills. Of course, most of that is due to Lewis and Clark Lake, which is one of the region's busiest summertime attractions.

But when summer is gone, so, too, are a lot of the tourists.

Because of that, efforts have been made by tourism and park officials, for instance, to promote the so-called "shoulder seasons" that reside on either side of summer. This has seen some success as the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area now draws more campers and visitors in the spring and fall seasons.

Meanwhile, the motel and hotel operators here have long sought to see events in the off-season that could attract more people to the community. That has led to some far-reaching discussions on possible new facilities that could be constructed to help draw more people to town, particularly during the slow cold-weather months.

An example that Nelson cited (and has also been cited here) is the Dam Fireworks River City Rumble Indoor Soccer Tournament, which took place in mid-January — which is about as mid-winter as you can get — and featured 73 teams from three states. That translated into several hundred players, coaches and fans, many of whom brought fresh money to town at a time that is otherwise inert in terms of tourism dollars.

The archery tournament, which brought in hundreds of people from literally across the world, also created an influx of new revenue — as well as global exposure, which is priceless — at a time of the year that's normally quiet here.

Whether it's sporting events, conventions, expos or whatever else, these off-season activities can make an impact on the economic outlook of the community. And that's what local officials and interests have been looking for, for some time now.

Yankton is making progress on this front, and the revenue numbers may be an encouraging sign of the benefits from that expansion. Let's hope that trend can continue, as well.

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Madison Daily Leader, Madison, March 21

After icy winter, keep track of salination

As this icy winter comes to a close, the folks at South Dakota State University bring up a topic we don't think about much: Will there be negative effects of the salting of roads, sidewalks, parking lots and so on?

We recognize that salting, sanding or using another material to improve traction on icy roads is necessary for public safety. Leaving roads icy is not an option for us.

Many municipalities (like Madison) use sand at intersections very effectively. It provides traction and can be swept up easily in the spring — but it doesn't melt the ice like salt or other compounds.

Salt, on the other hand, will effectively melt the ice but also can cause corrosion to road surfaces and bridges. That could be very costly if infrastructure needs to be replaced earlier due to salt damage.

But there's another potential problem with salt use: it can build up in surface waters such as lakes and streams, which could eventually cause harm to fishing and water quality.

"While the salination of South Dakota surface waters is not a water quality concern at this time, awareness of the issue could prevent it from being a concern in the future," said David Kringen, SDSU Extension water resources field specialist.

Salination (sometimes called salinization) is the process where water-soluble salts accumulate in soils or a body of water. It is typically measured by an increase in chloride.

In soils, salination is a concern, Kringen explained, because excess salts hinder the growth of crops by limiting their ability to take up water.

"In freshwater ecosystems, increased salinity can significantly reduce both the number of species in an ecosystem and relative abundance of aquatic plants and invertebrates, which in turn, affects the entire food chain," he said.

We're glad to hear salination isn't a problem in our local lakes and streams, but we believe public officials and other decision-makers should consider alternatives to keep roads and highways safe while avoiding a water quality problem in our lakes in the future.