County consolidation-related legislation advances

It’s been 41 years since two South Dakota counties combined.

Longer than that, some politicians and academics have thought more counties should merge.

Tuesday, the House Local Government Committee passed SB199 on a 13 to 0 vote to facilitate possible county consolidations.

The bill clarifies the consolidation process and allows county commissions and citizens to initiate the process.

The South Dakota Capitol building in Pierre. (Seth Tupper/SD Searchlight)

However, according to supporters, the most important part of the bill is that it would require a study of how the consolidation would work in terms of debts, the location of the courthouse, and other logistical issues.

Voters would then get to look at the study to see the advantages and disadvantages. A majority of voters in both counties would need to vote to consolidate.

Republican Rep. Greg Jamison from Sioux Falls says consolidation might be attractive because the city lies in Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties.

Republican Rep. Karla Lems from Canton said that while she wasn’t supporting consolidation, Lincoln County is essentially Sioux Falls in the north and rural in the south.

The last county to consolidate was Washabaugh in western South Dakota in 1983. It was an unorganized county which then merged with Jackson County.

During his four terms of office stretching from the late 1970s into the early 2000s, former Gov. Bill Janklow advocated county consolidation. However, he was not optimistic about it happening.

In 1999, the Yankton Press & Dakotan reported,” It won’t happen until we go broke,” Janklow told editors from the South Dakota Newspaper Association at a news conference in the Capitol.” I feel so strongly about some of these things,” Janklow said, admitting that he hurts himself when he calls people dummies and idiots for insisting on their own schools, police and sheriff’s departments, school bus services and the like.

In 1968, University of South Dakota political science professor Dr. William O. Farber authored a report on county consolidation. It concentrated on Buffalo and Jerauld Counties. They didn’t merge. Farber advocated for county consolidation throughout much of his career.

The bill now goes to the House floor for consideration. SB199 has already passed the Senate.