- Associated Press - Thursday, December 29, 2016

Capital Journal, Dec. 21

Gill’s presence on federal air service working group is good news for Pierre

The federal government is finally taking some action on air service for smaller cities in the middle of the country.

To those folks living out on the coasts or living near the country’s larger cities, whether or not a town like Pierre has a reliable air carrier may seem like small potatoes. That, undoubtedly is why congress forced the FAA to make the rules that effectively doomed unsubsidized air service in small cities across the Great Plains and mountain west regions of America.

The rules were passed quickly and, it seems, without much thought about what they would mean for communities like Pierre. The rules were certainly well intended but have, in the end, contributed to a growing shortage in the number of commercial pilots.



Rural areas were the first to be hit by the pilot shortage. In Pierre we watched once reliable service degenerate to the point that buying a ticket to fly out of our airport was like spinning a roulette wheel. Your chances of a late or cancelled flight were so good many people quit trying.

Thankfully, our new airline, Aerodynamics Inc., seems to have the reliability problem solved. It only took a multi-million dollar subsidy.

So now, US Department of Transportation is assembling its Small Community Air Service Working Group. The group’s creation was mandated by the most recent Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. It’s purpose will be to make recommendations about how to improve rural air service. The group has until July 15, 2017, to do that.

Thanks in no small part to our Senior U.S. Sen. John Thune’s position on the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, South Dakota landed two people in the 25-member working group.

Our own mayor, Laurie Gill, is one of them. The other is Jack Dokken, the South Dakota Department of Transportation’s Air, Rail and Transit program director. For a small state like ours, landing two people on this group is a big deal.

Hopefully Gill’s and Dokken’s membership in the group will help to push for some positive changes in rural air service. To Gill and Dokken we say good luck and fight hard.

___

The Daily Republic, Dec. 21

This sentence sent a message

Don’t deal drugs.

That seemed to be the loud-and-clear message Judge Glen Eng sent when earlier this week he sentenced a Mitchell woman to four years in prison and fined her the maximum $14,000 for charges of possessing and distributing marijuana.

For many, this was a surprising sentence, and there’s no doubt it was meant to send a message to anyone dealing drugs. And while we’re not standing up for or against Eng’s opinion, it’s worth speculating his intentions when issuing what many perceived as a harsh sentence.

The woman, 23-year-old Kaitlin Minder, lived on West Elm Street, where court documents state police found several drugs, including a quarter-pound of marijuana, cocaine, molly - also known as ecstasy - and drug paraphernalia.

During an August search of the house, the Mitchell Police Division also found $33,212 in cash, of which $31,000 was found in a hidden safe mounted inside a wall that was disguised as a furnace vent. Police also found numerous empty pill bottles, two digital scales, a vacuum bag sealer and several plastic bags.

Important to remember in this sentencing is the criminal justice reform enacted by the state legislature in 2013. Touted as the “Public Safety Improvement Act,” the law was to roll out drug courts to help rehabilitate users but severely punish the dealers to get them off the street.

Since the law was signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, we don’t remember a case in our area in which a dealer has landed significant time in prison. In fact, we’ve seen some dealers get a light prison sentence, only to be released and arrested soon again.

The law was supposed to go after the people who were dealing strictly for profit, which in Minder’s case, seems to be likely. During sentencing, Judge Eng used words like “conspiracy” and “major distribution” and assumed the money would be laundered through a new business.

Jordan Muntefering, who was arrested at the same time as Minder, also lived at the residence, but has pleaded not guilty to several felony charges.

While we’ll keep a close eye on his case and report its outcome, we can’t help but wonder what all the people who deal drugs in Mitchell are thinking following this sentencing.

Was Minder made an example of so others think twice before dealing? Perhaps.

But that’s one of the major purposes of the Public Safety Improvement Act, to significantly slow the distribution of drugs in our state.

Judge Eng had a purpose with his sentence, and that was to send a message that distribution won’t be tolerated.

___

Rapid City Journal, Dec. 29

Tiny houses a step in right direction

Mayor Steve Allender is thinking big and out of the box these days as he begins to tackle Rapid City’s affordable housing shortage.

Allender is looking at tiny houses as part of the solution in a community where jobs that pay even $14 an hour are difficult to find.

But now, the mayor is going from the talking to the doing stage in an unprecedented effort to open more doors for those working-class residents who want to call Rapid City home.

The Journal reported last week that Allender is working with a private developer and Neighborworks Dakota Home Resources to build five tiny town homes near the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

They would be from 360 to 968 square feet with attached garages. The prices are expected to range from $100,000 to $142,000. Those who seek to purchase a unit could receive help with the down payment and closing costs, assistance that likely would come from Neighborworks, an established nonprofit that helps local residents buy, repair and keep their homes.

If all goes as planned, work could begin in February or March on the town homes. Mayor Allender hopes the project eventually will pave the way for 100 or more tiny homes in Rapid City, which would be a remarkable achievement.

It also is important to note that the town homes will not be public housing nor require any investment of city funds. Allender describes his role as advisory and is helping the developer navigate the city’s planning process.

Certainly and predictably, the critics will dismiss the project as a waste of time that is beyond the city’s mission and obligation to taxpayers.

But what does the city have to lose by working with a nonprofit and private developer to help meet a clear and growing need in our community? Housing prices and rent are climbing at a much faster rate than wages in Rapid City. Most of the residential building, which includes apartment complexes, are now considered high-end projects where the profit margins are typically larger.

If the city continues, meanwhile, to wait for market forces to bring down housing prices it would be a long wait indeed, which means more and more young people will be candidates to leave and pursue work in a community where they can earn enough money to achieve the dream of owning a home.

While details still need to be worked out, questions answered and obstacles including public opinion confronted, Allender deserves credit for tackling one of any community’s thorniest problems - providing affordable housing for those who want to live, work and pay taxes in a place they call home.

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