AARP/RTA begins series of government guest speakers with mayor

The meeting on Monday, February 23, of the local AARP/RTA began a series of guest speakers representing government and how members' taxes are being spent.

Mike West is the president of the local chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons and the Retired Teachers Association. He put numbers on how much economic influence senior citizens have in the area. According to his research, social security recipients in Haakon County received a total of over $816,000 last year. Those people living in Haakon County retired under the state retirement system received a total of over $461,000 last year. West believes that these figures must be stressed to city and county leaders. Yet, during the well-attended AARP Lobby Day in Pierre, the legislators did not meet with their constituents during the luncheon.

West introduced guest speaker Philip Mayor John Hart, "Our country's president has a state of the union address and our governor has a state of the state address. Maybe we can call Mayor Hart's words a sort of 'state of the city' address."

"We don't have the major problems that big cities have," began Hart. "Even with the regrettable layoffs at Scotchman Industries, the City of Philip's sales income is still good. Even though the terribly high gas prices have come down, people are still staying home to do their shopping."

"The city has several projects going on that should help the local economy. The school drainage project will put underground culverts all the way down the hill to a storm sewer that was originally built to take that much extra run-off water. And, a new deck will be put around the city swimming pool. We will have to shut down the pool a bit earlier at the end of next season, but the following season will have a new deck as good as the day the pool was first built."

"The city is also paving and adding curb and gutter to Ash Street. We started planning for this when 51 percent of the involved landowners come to the city saying they wanted asphalt rather than gravel. Before the current economy hit, if any street work connects to downtown, to a highway or to a school, then the South Dakota Department of Transportation might have helped. But, this project will be paid in full by landowners and taxpayers, people like you who pay local sales tax by shopping at home instead of somewhere else."

"Tom Lesselyoung is retiring as the city's public works director. Matt Reckling will move up to that position, without his own old job being filled. With part-time help, anywhere from 20 to 40 hours per week, but only when needed, this should reduce the city budget by $35,000 without diminishing services."

"The city has been saving for the last eight or nine years so someday, in several more years, we can move out of the courthouse into its own city offices," said Hart.

Marcia West admitted that the AARP/RTA has had hopes of getting a museum started, perhaps on the top floor of the Haakon County Courthouse once the City of Philip moves out.

Mayor Hart acknowledged that, "If the federal stimulus package does what it is supposed to do, Philip might be able to move in five years, rather than longer." He did say that other things must come first. "Last year we did not do nine blocks of scheduled chip and seal work on paved roads, thus this next summer 18 will have to be done."

"It will cost an estimated $8,000 to repaint the parking lines downtown," said Hart. "Even with the crazy angle that the parking lines were done, we lost only six parking spaces. It was done specifically so people could get out of their cars with walkers and still have room and not ding any doors."

"We do have a future rubble site problem. We have just one pit left before we run out of room. If we can expand the site to adjacent land, then we can grandfather it in, rather than have to follow new more complex federal regulations. We just can't seem to be able to purchase any adjacent land."

Philip's Lake Waggoner was a Works Progress Administration dam, along with several others in the area. In 1989 the state got rid of all its WPA dams for liability reasons. Lake Waggoner became the property of the City of Philip.

Hart said, "If you get something from the government for free, you know you are going to get (the bad end of the deal). The problem we have is local people who don't use the lake still have to pay for it. People, such as those who live out of town by the lake and fishermen and boaters who visit from out of town, don't pay for maintenance or upkeep through property taxes to the city. Over the years, flood waters have eaten away below the spillway and backwashed underneath it. If we don't do something to fix it, during a future flood property could be damaged and people could get hurt. We don't have the money and there are no grants out there to help. Don't get me wrong, I love the lake, but if I had $400,000 I would put it into something else."

West, a former mayor of Philip, said that people were looking into the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks possibly draining the lake, excavating it out, then letting it refill. "With all the mud and sediment that has flooded in, the water depth is far less than people think," said West.

A free tax aid day for AARP/RTA members is set for March 6 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The next meeting will be at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, March 30, at the Bad River Senior Citizen Center. The guest speaker will be Haakon County States Attorney Gay Tollefson.