Mayor takes issue with water rate election mailer

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA TV) Rapid City officials took issue Thursday with a political mailer sent to residents that asks voters to vote "No" in the upcoming water rate election.

The mailer, sent this week by a citizens group called the "Don't Get Squeezed" Committee, contains the startling accusation that city officials broke the law and diverted "water fund cash to other projects." City ordinances prohibit the city from using money from so-called enterprise funds for any reason other than the what the fund is designed for.

When asked for specifics on the allegation, Tonchi Weaver from Don't Get Squeezed pointed to a November 2017 transfer from the Water Enterprise Fund to the Utility Support Fund.

"There was $1.25 million transferred out of the water fund with ... no explanation," she said. "So that is a very questionable allocation of water utility money. So we're not saying it's allegation. It's fact."

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender shot back. The money was transferred by ordinance in public meetings to repay the Utility Support Fund for a loan to buy water storage capacity in Pactola Reservoir.
"The group is wrong," he said. "The city did not break the law. The city made an expenditure in line with the Water Enterprise Fund. This group doesn't want an explanation, they want to make accusations. We could have told them this at any time if they had bothered to ask the question."

The mailer also says that Rapid City has the highest residential water rates in South Dakota. Weaver says the claim is backed up online.

"The information that we drew that from is on," she said. "We hope that everyone will go there and review the information that's there and draw their own conclusions but they can see what ours are."

Allender says the charge is misleading.

"Rapid City's rates are structured in a way to promote conservation," he said. "So the users that use a lesser amount of water pay a lower water rate. The users that use a lot of water pay a higher rate."

The result is that some pay lower rates and some pay higher rates than other communities in the state.

At issue for the voters is whether to strike down an ordinance that would streamline the city's ability to set water rates.

The special election on how to set water rates will be held February 20th. Early voting is open now at the Pennington County Auditor's Office.