Almost half of the Union County Board of County Commission’s five-hour meeting Sept. 7 was held in executive session for legal or personnel matters. One portion of the meeting, the public defenders contract, lasted 40 minutes. Katie Johnson spoke on the terms of the contract, stating the five law firms were willing to go down to $4,500 per month instead of the $5,000 on the previous contract offer two weeks ago. The law firms still had disagreements with language in the contract referring to conflict of interest. Johnson presented the commissioners with a copy of the American Bar Association rules of professional conduct and went through some of them.

Johnson stated that a fair offer is $4,500 per month for a total of $270,000 a year. This is up from $190,000 last year.

Commission chairman Milton Ustad said that he sees that as a large increase, to which commissioner Tom Kimmel agreed throwing in that it’s a 40 percent increase to one budget.

The board said they would look at their offer and, hopefully, come to an agreement by Sept. 21. Later in the meeting, the commissioners continued discussions, stating they wouldn’t accept the $270,000 offer, but would be willing to go up from the $220,000 they had previously offered to $240,000. They still said it’s a substantial increase at 23 percent, but it’s better than 40. The public defender contract is a three-year contract with a 1.5 percent increase every year.

Department Heads

Union County Emergency Manager Jeff Christie presented the yearly SLA agreement between the state and the county that helps pay for part of his salary. The commissioners approved Ustad to sign the contract.

Christie also provided an update from the last two weeks stating that the state radio tower, located in North Sioux City by the old weigh station, went down because the AC unit wasn’t keeping the equipment cool. A new AC unit needed to be purchased to help the issue. However, another issue was brought to Christie’s attention – the tower isn’t covering the area like it’s supposed to.

“They don’t have coverage like they should down there,” commissioner Kevin Joffer stated. “Rich [Headid] knows that. We got to get that square, because there was a lot of work that went into that, even from people on the commission, representative [David] Anderson did a lot of work to get that in the state budget. So, that’s not acceptable; to not have emergency services coverage down there when that was what the whole purpose was.”

“I feel it’s unacceptable as well, folks,” Christie said.

Christie said he’s working on contacting people about it and isn’t going to give up on making it work correctly.

“It’s pretty disheartening, I told Kevin the other day, to see a trooper on the interstate on his hand-held radio south of Elk Point and he’s holding his portable up to get signal,” Christie said. “That’s taking away from him from watching that traffic stop. It’s an officer safety issue. It’s truly unacceptable for as close as we are to that tower. It’s just not okay.”

Union County Director of Equalization Dawn Steckelberg, Planning and Zoning Director Dennis Henze and Public Buildings and Grounds Superintendent Scott Sexton gave their reports.

Union County Highway Superintendent Jerry Buum began his report by asking for an executive session for legal; about a half hour later they reconvened with no action. Buum asked for permission to sign a purchase agreement for a new front-end loader he budgeted for next year. By signing the agreement now, they’ll receive the loader for $46,000 less than $309,278.99 for a total price of $263,278.99 and lock that price in for next year. The commissioners gave him permission to move forward as long as the purchase is done in 2022. The commissioners also gave Buum permission to use the asphalt zipper to mill one of the streets in Beresford.

Union County Sheriff Dan Limoges discussed three fully-automatic Armalite Rifles (AR) that have been in the sheriff’s office for many years. Limoges said there’s an individual who is interested in the rifles and would trade putting up a building in exchange for the guns.

Union County Auditor Jackie Sieverding asked Limoges why he didn’t tell her about this earlier, because she could have looked into this. She said she’s positive that they can’t do that.

Commissioner Rich Headid said he thinks this would still have to go through some sort of surplus or a bidding process.

Limoges said he can’t just bid these out to anyone; they have to be a Federal Firearms Dealer.

The commissioners directed Sieverding to look more into the process.

Limoges asked the commissioners why he was denied a new deputy in 2022 when they have such a wide area to cover, including 3,000 residents in Dakota Dunes.

“My biggest focus was wages this year,” Headid said. “So we spent a lot of money in wages, so it probably wasn’t thinking that you didn’t need one. My priority was wages, in my mind... I think the wages we need to get up there so that we can keep people. That’s what I was focusing on.”

“It’s not a realization that we don’t think we are where we need to be,” Joffer began, “I agree with Rich. We kind of prioritized our funds, what we thought we needed to do.”

Limoges discussed wages with the commissioners to which the commissioners offered no input, instead deciding to take in the information provided.

See full story in this week’s Leader-Courier.