SPEARFISH — Despite several emotional pleas from residents in Spearfish Valley adamantly opposed to annexation, council members sat silent and eventually voted 5-1 to bring its nearly 660 acres into city limits.
Even though this is the final step of the process for the city, it’s just the beginning for many of the 1,635 residents who will be affected.
“Don’t sit there and think we aren’t united and know we are not giving up,” Jim Lee said during the two-hour public hearing Monday night.
Lee, along with more than a dozen residents along Upper and Lower Valley, made it crystal clear to elected officials that because this is an “involuntary” annexation, Valley residents will bring this to a vote, the results of which they’ll present to the Spearfish City Council.
City officials argue residents in city limits pay to provide police, fire and ambulance services in the area when Lawrence County officials are unable to respond. The additional property tax revenue would also finance infrastructure improvements, a waterline extension and fire hydrants.
Spearfish City Administrator Joe Neeb said the city would assume about $298,000 in revenue and $120,000 in new expenditures, so the benefit would be around $130,000. In addition, once the connection fees for water, sewer and solid waste are incorporated into the equation, Neeb estimates the city will incur an additional $322,000 in net revenue.
But despite the numbers set forth in the study, the message of Valley residents remains that they did not ask for city services, do not need city services and want to be left alone.
The increase in property taxes, “unknown fees” and the inevitable costs to individual property owners who will be mandated to hook into the city’s waterline were the main contentions residents communicated during the hearing. They “fear” the 223 undeveloped acres of open space and farmland will attract developers who intend to build housing developments and parking lots that will result in putting truck farmers out of business, completely changing the landscape so many have come to appreciate and have spent decades trying to preserve.
“This decision is life changing for many of us,” said John Pearson, who lives along Highway 14 and made a valiant effort to convince the council to change the direction of their upcoming vote. “You are about to change the Valley and not for the better and all we want is to be left alone.”
Communication between Valley residents and the city was also brought up several times. Residents argued officials never asked them what they wanted, and refused to think outside of the box to come up with a different way to solve the city’s revenue issues while keeping the area as is.
With all that said, and so much more, the final verdict was handed down. Councilman Dave Baker had the lone dissenting vote and said he’s been against annexation in the past and that opinion hasn’t changed.
Spearfish City Administrator Joe Neeb said those opposed to the annexation have 20 days to file a referendum, and within 60 days all registered voters residing in the annexation boundaries and within city limits will have an opportunity to overturn the council’s decision or let the process move forward.
City approves ‘bike path’ on Lookout Mountain
It’s been almost four months since the city began discussions to officially approve the use of mountain bikes on Lookout Mountain, and Monday they voted to change the language of a conservation easement to do so.
This all came to a head when the access point to Lookout Mountain was closed off at Exit 12 for safety issues. During these talks for a proposed trailhead project to improve the Nevada Street access, questions arose about what is considered recreational use set forth in a conservation easement between the city and the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the nonprofit entity that holds the title to Lookout Mountain Park.
Due to the ambiguity in the easement, the question of whether mountain bikes are or are not allowed on Lookout Mountain was in the midst of debate, but Spearfish City Attorney Dick Pluimer told city officials he drafted a resolution that allowed for the agreement between the foundation and the city to say mountain bikes are allowed on trails, as they have now been determined to be “bike paths” rather than just open to hikers and horseback riders.
The council voted unanimously to approve the resolution and Mayor Dana Boke will oversee the formation of a committee to discuss the future improvements to Lookout Mountain and its trail system.
“At this point all we’re doing is allowing what is already occurring on the trails,” Pluimer said, noting a study would allow the council to formulate a plan and make sure “… everything is done right.”