Minnehaha County Commission chair: ‘It has been a challenging year’

July 18, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by the Minnehaha County Economic Development Association.

Jean Bender has a first-row seat to the growth and the challenges being experienced by communities in Minnehaha County.

We caught up with the County Commission chair recently for her perspective on the diverse county she helps lead.

Help us take the pulse of the communities within Minnehaha County. What are some of the themes you’re seeing from them so far this year?

Flooding in the county this spring was an immediate concern to many county residents as the emergency response was coordinated. Unfortunately, the agriculture community and rural residents continue to feel effects of excess water as some farmers have struggled getting crops into the ground. Rural township roads were hit particularly hard by the flooding and will take time to recover. Township boards continue to be in contact with FEMA.

The county continues to grow, which is positive from a number of angles as jobs are created and the tax base is expanded. Growth brings its own set of challenges as pressure continues to be placed on public safety expenses.

What are you hearing or experiencing from the ag community this season throughout the county?

It has been a challenging year with the impact of tariffs, the ice storm and flooding this spring. The impact of tariffs is being felt by producers as the agriculture community gets their product to market and looks to sell to buyers from other countries.

The weather events — flooding and the ice storm — resulted in county road closures. While county highways did not experience extensive damage, township roads were hit pretty hard by the impact of flooding.

Ice storms impacted power infrastructure as lines broke under the excess weight of ice from the storm. Rural energy providers worked diligently in responding, but those efforts took time as they worked to restore power to ag producers and residents in rural parts of the county.

What are some of the bright spots as you visit with communities within the county? What kind of positive activity are they experiencing?

The commission continues the successful partnership with MCEDA for the third annual bus tour of the county. Commissioners and other county leadership had the opportunity to meet with business owners and tour facilities like Marmon Energy and Midwest Railcar. We also met with Sioux Valley Energy to get an update on their efforts responding to the ice storm and other weather events that have impacted the county this year.

Tours were also provided for Foundation Park, Highway 100 construction and the future site of the Veterans Cemetery that will be built outside of Sioux Falls. The tours are very beneficial for the commissioners to hear directly from business owners and county residents about how decisions made by the County Commission impact economic growth, rural residents and improve our quality of life.

What are some of the commission’s priorities for the remainder of the year and looking ahead to 2020?

Creating the budget is always a priority each year. 2020 is a challenging budget year as public safety needs grow and the county continues efforts to meet the needs of citizens in a cost-effective way. Work on the triage center is progressing as the county further collaborates with the city of Sioux Falls and community providers. The triage center will be one point of contact for anyone who has personally struggled or has a family member who has struggled with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health challenges. Individuals will be able to get connected to community resources through the triage center.

The county continues to review its facilities and has assembled a task force to get input from private sector CFOs and business leaders. Our goal is to develop a prudent, cost-effective plan to modernize aging facilities and implement the campus facilities master plan recommendations from the Beacom School of Business at USD.

What are some ways the county is supporting or planning to support the growth-related needs of its communities?

Infrastructure continues to be a priority. The county was recently awarded a $1.1 million grant to assist with bridge maintenance and construction. Good roads and other infrastructure are an important part of facilitating the continued expansion of commerce and industry.

The county continues to support public safety through the sheriff and the entire criminal justice system. Pre-trial services help ensure the right people are kept in jail without over incarcerating. These efforts ensure individuals who are non-violent offenders, not a flight risk and not a danger to others are able to remain in the community and work to support their families prior to trial. The MacArthur Foundation grant continues to play a role in this process and the triage center as well.

If residents would like to become more involved or otherwise connect with county government, what are some ways you suggest doing that?

The commission looks forward to opportunities to connect with residents.  Several ways to do this are by attending a commission meeting, accessing minnehahacounty.org, and volunteering for county-appointed boards. Constituents continue to connect with the commission on a case-by-case basis when an item of interest comes before the commission.

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Minnehaha County Commission chair: ‘It has been a challenging year’

It hasn’t been an easy year for many in Minnehaha County, but there are some bright spots too. We caught up with County Commission chair Jean Bender for her perspective on the county’s opportunities and challenges.

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