An Unglamorous, Yet Necessary, Undertaking
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard
February 24, 2017
PIERRE, SD – The word that best sums up the public trust held by elected officials is stewardship.Stewardship – the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care – has been my goal as governor. It is through good stewardship that we balance the budget each year, make improvements to the state pension system and adopt new budget practices.
Stewardship also involves the sound management of tangible state assets. Regular maintenance of state-owned facilities prevents larger problems in the future, but state government also needs to constantly reevaluate its need for the facilities that we have. When I first ran for governor, I talked about the need to scrutinize state-owned land and buildings – and to sell assets that were underutilized. This has been an ongoing process now for six years.
We first addressed the Human Services Center in Yankton. A number of buildings on the campus were vacant and some were beyond repair. As we started to pursue sales options, we heard concerns from those within the community who stressed the need to preserve the history of HSC. We worked with the Yankton County Historical Society to negotiate a lease-purchase agreement for the historic Mead Building. The local historical society has since been beautifully restoring this building. With the Legislature’s support, we then sold the remaining unneeded land and demolished many vacant, dilapidated buildings.
Next, we looked at the campus of the South Dakota Developmental Center in Redfield. Like the Yankton facility, this large campus was built to house over a thousand South Dakotans with developmental or mental health issues, often for their entire lives. Today, the campus serves only about 125 persons. This year, I am asking legislators to authorize the transfer of several vacant buildings and the adjoining lands from that campus to the City of Redfield, which has expressed an interest in refurbishing the buildings and returning them to a public use.
We are also discussing a potential sale of the former State Training School campus in Plankinton. This property has been leased for over a decade to a private company that operates the Aurora Plains Academy there. We are evaluating the potential to sell the campus, and I have brought a bill to authorize that potential sale this year as well.
There is also a bill pertaining to the potential sale of the STAR Academy property outside of Custer, which closed last March. There are too few juveniles in the corrections system to justify this large campus. Even a future increase of juveniles in corrections would not justify reopening STAR Academy; we would use smaller, more efficient facilities that are closer to population centers. My hope is that the STAR Academy property, which is at a scenic Black Hills location, can be sold and developed to create jobs and economic activity in the area.
Also in the Black Hills area, the construction of the new State Veterans Home in Hot Springs has led us to reevaluate the land and buildings on that campus, and I am asking legislators to approve legislation that allows us to explore repurposing portions of that campus.
Likewise, property formerly used by Western Dakota Tech in Rapid City will be reverting to state ownership. The state has no use for this property, and another bill would authorize its sale. I also hope the Legislature will pass a similar bill allowing the state to sell the former School for the Deaf buildings and property, located on East Tenth Street in Sioux Falls.
Stewardship efforts such as these may seem run-of-the-mill or un-noteworthy during a busy legislative session. Yet, they are still important proposals. We owe it to the taxpayers to keep the state’s footprint to a minimum, to avoid spending tax dollars on maintenance of unneeded facilities and to return these properties to the tax rolls when possible. It may be an unglamorous undertaking, but it’s a necessary one.