Does Mitchell really have higher property taxes than the rest of the state?

At last night’s Mitchell City Council meeting, an oft-repeated claim was made about Mitchell supposedly having the highest or among the highest property taxes in the state:

Roger Musick, CEO of Innovative Systems, addressed the council Monday and spoke in favor of the proposal. Musick said a city administrator in the city’s government could help reduce the city’s property tax rates, which are among the highest in the state for similar-sized cities.

“I think it’s time for a change,” he said. “We’ve tried it for 100-plus years this way, and the result is taxes that are too high.”

I’ve heard that claim repeatedly since I began working here in 2003, and I did a story on it in 2007 to check the validity of the claim. I found back then that Mitchell’s property tax rate per $1,000 of valuation was actually the third-highest among the state’s largest cities. I also found that the issue was much more complex than many people might have guessed. Brookings, for example, had all kinds of city-owned businesses — including the hospital and the local telecommunications provider — that brought in extra revenue and reduced the burden on property tax payers. Other cities didn’t have that extra revenue.

I hope to have a reporter check again soon on the claim about Mitchell’s high property tax rates, since it’s now being used in support of a proposal to add a city administrator to city government.

In the meantime, in case you’re curious, here’s my story from April 21, 2007:

Wide gap in city property tax rates

Huron has highest in state; Mitchell 3rd

The Daily Republic

The property tax rates payable this year to South Dakota’s 10 largest cities vary widely, from a low of $2.61 per $1,000 of valuation in Brookings to a high of $10.788 in Huron.

Why the large gap? Experts in taxation and public finance cite two main factors: differences in property values from city to city, and the funding that cities get from other sources besides property taxes.

The alternate funding is the easier of the two explanations to understand.

Take Brookings, for example, which has an unusually high number of what are called “business-type” activities. Martin Guindon, the state’s auditor general, said the money Brookings pulls in from those activities may help drive down the city’s property tax rate.

“That’s probably one of the bigger factors, I think,” Guindon said.

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Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and me

Me, a secessionist?

I never saw myself that way. I don’t want to tear the union asunder, divide the nation, and risk plunging our country into another tragic civil war.

But there was my name, or at least Tom L, on the petition to allow South Dakota to secede from the union. I think it has been removed, and I am trying to ensure that happens, but for a few minutes anyway, there it was.

I am writing a story on the secession movement in South Dakota, and was reading the petition at, when I clicked on a button that I thought would take me to a list of names. Nope, it added Tom L to the petition.

So this is a heads-up. Beware of adding your name to a petition, however accidentally. I don’t sign petitions in grocery store parking lots, on street corners or anywhere else they are stuck in your face. But the website snared me.

Just to put it on the record: I like the United States of America. Hell, I love this country. I put my hand over my heart when we say the Pledge of Allegiance at City Council meetings, I stand up and croak out the National Anthem at ballgames and other events, and I enjoy baseball, apple pie and have owned and driven Chevrolets.

There. I hope I succeeded in making my point.


Ken Tracy and FDR

Ken Tracy celebrates his victory on Election Night, June 5. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Ken Tracy has been mayor of Mitchell for 77 days.

You’re forgiven if it seems much longer. Tracy has been a busy man, and Mitchell has seen a truly amazing run of activity. Monday night, the City Council authorized issuing $13.9 million in bonds for four major projects that could impact the city for decades.

Since Tracy took office after winning a six-candidate race for mayor, steps have been taken to expand and improve the Corn Palace, build an impressive new city hall at the south entry to downtown, add a second sheet of ice at the Mitchell Activities Center, as well as expanding and updating the Mitchell Public Library.

That’s where the $13.9 million will go, and almost assuredly more than that.

The city will have 25 years to pay it back at a very low interest rate. Other projects are coming off the books, sales tax revenue is on pace for a record year and studies are to be released next week on how to provide more housing while disclosing how Mitchell and area residents earn their incomes.

A building boom is predicted by the chamber’s top official, Bryan Hisel, who also said more jobs are being added to the city economy.

Tracy, a retired state employee, was a council veteran before filling the mayor’s chair after Lou Sebert retired from public life. Sebert served two terms marked in the end by public rejections of city decisions, including adding a city manager, converting three streets to two-way traffic, and offering off-sale alcohol on Sundays.

Of course, big steps on these projects were taken and the city’s finances improved despite a rocky time in the national economy. Give Sebert credit for manning the helm when that happened. But Tracy has taken control and led the council, and the city, have no doubt of that.

During the campaign, Tracy, 65, said he was ready for the promotion and the challenge. Since he became mayor, he has teamed with Council President Jeff Smith, whom he has known and worked with for years, the rest of the council and an experienced city staff to create all these plans and progress. It’s one of the most vital periods in city history.

Oh, and Tracy also showed up during the Traffic Commission meeting before the start of the council meeting Monday to call for a ban on texting and driving in the city. Smith then asked to have it added it to the commission agenda for Oct. 15.

That’s all. There hasn’t been any proposals to pave Main Street with corn-colored squares, double the size of Lake Mitchell or annex Mount Vernon.

Yet. I’ll check on those in the morning.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took dramatic action when he was sworn in as president in 1933. Since then, presidents are always assessed on what they accomplish in their first 100 days.

Tracy still has 23 days to go. What’s next?

Instant runoff voting: Could it be right for Mitchell?

With six candidates in the race for mayor of Mitchell and nothing in our city laws requiring or allowing a runoff, there’s been a lot of talk about a candidate potentially winning with far less than a majority of the votes cast.

It’s likely that some sort of discussion about runoffs will ensue for future elections, but that can get complicated. Making voters come back for a runoff election two or three weeks after the original election is asking a lot, and it’s likely to decrease turnout and add the expense of another election.

Here’s a video sent to me that explains an alternative proposal.

A picture of evil

We’re running the photo below with a story about sidewalk alcohol service in tomorrow’s paper. The story examines practices in other South Dakota communities.

After seeing this horrifying image of three young women imbibing the devil’s concoction, I can see why we would never want such a thing to happen in downtown Mitchell.

A warning: This image may not be suitable for young viewers. The Daily Republic is not responsible for any sudden acts of immorality that may result from viewing this image.

Image courtesy of Sioux Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau