By John D. Taylor
HOT SPRINGS – Fall River County is looking into getting tough with people who owe money on back taxes.
The county commissioners heard from two collection agencies the county may use to collect on liens generated from back tax bills at their Tuesday, Oct. 18 meeting.
*Jeff Churchill, from the Credit Collection Bureau (CCB), of Rapid City, and Lisa Shultz, from Advanced Asset Alliance (Triple A), with offices in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, pitched their companies to the commissioners as vehicles for collecting on tax liens.
Churchill says his privately-owned company, with about 60 full-time collectors, was founded in Rapid City in 1987 and now has offices in Sioux Falls, as well as Fargo and Bismarck, ND. He claims a third of the accounts his company handles are eventually paid in full, but only a 10 percent success rate in the lien end of collections.
Since his company has accounts it deals with in healthcare, for other municipalities, and in other areas, it can leverage this information to find people who have skipped out on paying liens. He also noted how the company has a full-time attorney to take legal actions against debtors in small claims court, and can garnish wages if necessary to collect on back tax bills.
Churchill said his company would take care of the paperwork involved in handling collections.
He also said CCB would claim 30 percent of what it collects for the county as its fee for making the collection. And he said he currently works with the city of Hot Springs, Fall River Hospital, also Pennington, Haakon, Spink, Custer and Brown counties.
An on-line connection to CCB’s website would allow the county to view the status of accounts at any time, and the basic operation would be debtors paying CCB, then CCB turning over this money to the county – minus their cut.
*Shultz pitched a similar cause. Triple A is a smaller company, with a minimal Rapid City office staff, as she described it, with offices in Sioux Falls and Rapid City. Triple A does not report collections to credit bureaus because they believe in establishing a relationship with people to work out payments, she said.
Triple A has a 23-35 percent success rate in turning over collections, and specializes in collecting debts owed to healthcare providers, municipalities (Custer, Todd counties, Sioux Falls and Sturgis are customers) and institutions. They could also complete the paperwork required, have a lawyer on staff, and can customize a solution for the county to collect on its outstanding debts.
Triple A works off a one-year contract, Shultz said, and would visit with the county to discuss collections at least four times per year. Triple A would take 23 percent of what it gets collected, she said, and help solve the county’s issues with accounts receivable by teaching county employees ways to better collect on what is owed.
The commissioners made no decision on which company to go with, but merely listened and considered their options.
In other business, the commissioners considered:
Edgemont law enforcement
Edgemont Mayor Carl Shaw came to the county meeting to talk about how his city was dissatisfied with the law enforcement coverage it was receiving from Fall River County.
When asked by Commissioner Joe Falkenburg to expand on Edgemont’s issues with the sheriff’s department’s policing of his community, Shaw said, “Edgemont is not happy.”
Shaw cited a lack of contact between the deputies patrolling the city and his government. No one checks in with city hall to find out what’s going on, Shaw said, and no one ever sees the deputies when they are in Edgemont.
Shaw said he wanted the deputies’ help enforcing city ordinances, and cited three cases of vandalism that took place in the city recently, including the $12,000 worth of damage done at Cactus Hills, and how vandals “tore up the bathrooms” at another location. The city had information about these acts to pass on to the deputies, but couldn’t do this because they never see them. Shaw said the community could help him find these criminals.
Fall River County Sheriff Bob Evans told the commissioners that based on reports that his department generates, the sheriff’s department spends about 57 percent of its time in the Hot Springs area – this includes Angostura and other area around the city of Hot Springs, but not the city itself, which has its own police department – and 33 percent of its time in Edgemont.
According to 2017 budget figures, Evans continued, the sheriff’s department and dispatch, together, get $867,000. Evans said 33 percent of this would equal $286,000. However, Edgemont only pays $115,000 – or 13 percent of the overall sheriff’s department budget – to the county for police coverage, a $171,000 difference.
Evans noted that vandalism in the city park and in other locations involved juveniles and he could not talk about this because some cases were ongoing, still being investigated. Evans said someone should have seen something in one vandalism case involving fire extinguishers, kids coming home with fire extinguisher chemicals on their hands, but no one has reported this.
Evans also noted that a parking problem had been resolved in the town, and that with just two deputies working right now, he is short of staff. Evans also mentioned how the sheriff’s department is currently paying for the training of another deputy, one who lives in Edgemont, at a cost of $1,300 per day, at the state police academy. After this training is completed, this deputy will be available to help patrol.
When Falkenburg asked how to solve the problem, Shaw said more contact and better communication between the sheriff’s department and Edgemont would go a long way. Evans said he would reach out more often, and Commissioner Joe Allen suggested that Shaw and Evans meet for coffee a couple of times per month, to resolve the issue. Evans agreed to do this.
Falkenburg said the county would hate to lose the support of Edgemont, and Shaw said that the city was looking into other things, but nothing “stood out” at the moment.
Battle Mountain fire
Fall River County emergency manager Frank Maynard shared information about the Battle Mountain fire that took place on Friday evening, Oct. 14. He called the fire an “ugly mess” and noted it burned more than 20 acres. Maynard said the city was very lucky the fire didn’t burn up more than the mostly state ground it torched.
Maynard said the road leading up Battle Mountain, to where the county dispatch towers are located, and use a propane-fueled back up generation system, is very bad and needs work; the propane truck can’t reach the tank.
Maynard wondered if the county highway department could grade the last 200 feet of the road to make access easier. Highway Superintendent Randy Seiler said he would look into this.
Hot Springs Mayor Cindy Donnell attended the county meeting to ask the commissioners about joint planning for emergency preparedness between the county and the city, especially in the event of a flood, which would inundate most of the city, including the county courthouse.
Donnell said that attending a recent Municipal League meeting opened her eyes to the value of joint preparedness, including her concerns that the city intended to build on what is a flood plain across the street from the courthouse.
Donnell asked the county what is the plan in the event of a disaster like a flood, or a tornado; also, where is the backup between the city and the county?
The city, she said, could use the library, on higher ground, as a communications center if needed. But she was unaware of any similar plans the county had in place in the event of a catastrophe.
Commissioner Mike Ortner said the county has contingency plans with Custer County to serve as a backup center in the event of a catastrophe. Sheriff Bob Evans noted that county dispatch needs are also backed up at the Cascade Fire Department with a duplicate console for handling calls, although he was not sure how up-to-date this was.
Falkenburg called Donnell’s question was a good one, and noted how a 14-inch rain once fall in northeastern Wyoming in a single day, how this could flood the city.
Falkenburg said that one way or another the county would figure out how to handle things.
Donnell said the county should think about creating a plan in the event of an emergency and coordinate with the city for evacuation. She noted that Maynard and Evans were the only two people who could require an evacuation
Falkenburg and Maynard vowed to work more on this issue. Donnell urged better communiation to gain a better understanding of how each entity would handle an emergency was needed.
In another matter, when questioned about the potential 120 jobs that might come to Hot Springs via a call center at the VA, Donnell said she had a positive feeling about this, offered her assistance to the VA, and that although it was not what many in the community were hoping for from the VA, it was good having the State Home and the VA in the community.
More flood plain
Susan Henderson mirrored Donnell’s comments about the county planning to build in the Fall River flood plain, noting that the Army Corps of Engineers raised flooding issue with the county about this piece of ground.
Henderson said that during the mid-1980s, when she and her family were visting the Evans Hotel, she saw a continuous brown spot encircling the wallpaper of the hotel, which she was told was where flood waters rose, reaching above the 15 steps up into the hotel, during a previous flood.
She again asked the commissioners to reconsider their stance on renting space at the State Home, and reiterated how this would give the county two years to figure out what it needed to do to get more space that was not in a flood plain.
“You have to act more responsibly to the tax payers,” she said, “it’s frightening to those who pay taxes, and you should put this issue back on the agenda, look at it again.”