By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Following an exhaustive three-month process which saw the city widdle down a list of 31 potential candidates to their one top choice, the Hot Springs City Council unanimously approved Scott Sogge, age 64, as its new Development Coordinator at the regular meeting last Tuesday night, Feb. 20,
The position, formerly known as the Buildings Administrator, has the main priority of working on the progressive development of the city’s buildings and infrastructure, with a close secondary responsibility of building code enforcement, according to current City Administrator, Kim Barbieri. She was the former Buildings Administrator prior to taking on her new role late last year.
The announcement of Sogge last Tuesday night however has since spurred considerable criticism from the public due Sogge’s publicized criminal past, when he was a prominent Rapid City businessman.
According to an April 26, 2016, article in the Rapid City Journal, Sogge, was sentenced to one year in federal prison for failing to pay $270,000 in taxes while the owner of the construction business Remodel King. The story said Sogge did not pay the government some $177,000 in taxes that he had collected from employees between 2009 and 2014. He also did not remit $92,000 in taxes that he owed as an employer. He pleaded guilty to the charge of failure to withhold, properly account for, and pay the taxes. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website, Sogge was released after time served on May 5, 2017.
In addition to the owner of Remodel King, the now nearly two-year-old Rapid City Journal story stated Sogge was also a former president of the Rapid City Residential Contractor Board and former member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Despite his past indiscretions and subsequent time served in prison, the City of Hot Springs and Mayor George Kotti are standing by their decision and feel strongly that they found the right person for the job, due to his past construction experience, knowledge of code enforcement and passion for the buildings in Hot Springs.
In an interview at City Hall on Monday, Feb. 26, held nearly a week after the council’s approval of the hire, Mayor Kotti and City Administrator Kim Barbieri said Sogge’s prior felony conviction was something carefully considered by the city’s six-member hiring committee. The group included both Kotti and Barbieri, council members Harlene Cain and Bob Nelson, and local contractor James Forbord, along with city engineer Tracy Bastian who was brought on later during the interview process.
Kotti said the 31 original applicants for the job were narrowed down to eight individuals with whom they conducted personal interviews. He said Sogge’s felony conviction was addressed right away in his interview, and was something he disclosed and was forthright with from the beginning.
Barbieri said while none of the eight interviewees were considered “perfect candidates” with all of the attributes the city was seeking, Sogge soon rose to the top as the committee became impressed with his knowledge and experience. Kotti said he showed “remorse” and “took blame” for the acts which put him in prison. “It was a pivotal point in his life,” Kotti said, while adding that he felt the time he served in a correctional facility had “served its purpose.”
Moreover, Kotti said the city’s hope in finding someone to fill the position as a Development Coordinator was to have someone with that title who would be willing “to be a catalyst for development instead of a road block.”
“He is that type of person,” Kotti said. “Someone who is wanting to work with contractors and move the community forward, specifically in the area of workforce housing and downtown revitalization.”
Kotti recognized some in the community, specifically the contractors with which Sogge will be working, may have concerns about his past. He however wants to assure everyone that the city will be monitoring his work closely but was confident that Sogge would soon quickly gain everyone’s respect once on the job.
Sogge, who currently works at the Michael J. Fitzmaurice South Dakota State Veterans Home in Hot Springs, will begin in his new position with the city on March 7.
Following the approval to hire Sogge and the completion of the various committee reports, at last week’s city council meeting, the council also approved the first reading of Ordinance 1185, which establishes a discretionary residential tax rebate “to promote property improvements and new construction” within the city limits of Hot Springs.
Mayor Kotti said there is a great need for workforce housing in the community and that this ordinance will help to stimulate homeowners and developers to either remodel existing homes to make more appealing to sell, or help create new construction to add to the housing available in town.
The tax deferment, which City Administrator Kim Barbieri was developed with the assistance of Fall River County Director of Equalization Susie Simkins, would allow property owners the opportunity to not pay any taxes for a five year period on newly built homes that meet the requirements, or on any remodeling projects that meet the requirements. In reference to the remodeling work, Finance Officer Misty Summers-Walton confirmed later in the week that the proposed deferment would provide tax rebates on only the portion of the remodeling project that improved the value of the home, and not the entire home. Barbieri also said the tax deferment would only apply to the home itself, and not the land.
During discussion of the proposed ordinance, council members Carolann Schwarzenbach and Bob Nelson both expressed concern over some of the language used in the ordinance to define a Redevelopment Neighborhood as one that is an “area of detriment of public health, safety, morals or welfare.”
Nelson wondered if that kind of wording was required by law, and if not, that it be changed since it could be perceived negatively by residents. Schwarzenbach also wanted to be assured that the city attorney had looked over the ordinance before moving forward to the second reading. The city’s attorney Chris Beesley was present at the meeting and he said he did look at it for the first time that day, but would review it more closely and report back if any concerns.
During Kotti’s mayor report at the end of the meeting, he stated that he was recently contacted by the Veterans Administration and told they have concerns about their desire to increase workforce in Hot Springs, but have run into issues with having enough available housing for their employees.
“When we look at the tenuous situation with our Hot Springs VA, we don’t want that to be a tie-breaker for our community that causes them to curtail operations here in Hot Springs,” he said.
“We want to do anything we can to make that happen.”
Also during his mayor’s report, Kotti identified two pieces city-owned property which they are hoping to sell to a developer through an RFP (Request for Proposal) process in order to help pave the way for the creation of new workforce housing using the tax deferment incentive. Those two pieces of property are the former water station on Canton Avenue and the Armory building to the east of Butler Park.
A roll call vote revealed all but one council member, Scharzenbach, voting in favor of the first reading. She clarified that it was not because she is against the ordinance, but that she would like the language cleaned up and the city attorney’s approval before voting in favor, which she hoped would take place by the time for a second reading.
In other business, the city council:
• Approved the first reading of Ordinance 1186, which transferred six lots from Rural taxation to Urban taxation in the Back Nine housing development adjacent to Southern Hills Golf Course. Kotti said the lots were recently purchased by a developer and would hopefully begin seeing homes built on them.
• Approved authorizing Finance Officer Misty Summers-Walton to pay down the Boulder Falls Road District bond issue principal by $90,000 revenue received from early payoff assessments.
• Approved the new fee structure of Barnyard Veterinary Clinic for animal services, with some increasing slightly (boarding increase of $2 per day) and some decreasing significantly (euthanizing rates now based on weight of the animal instead of a flat fee).
• Approved the travel request for Police Chief Mike Close to attend a conference in Deadwood, and Officer Zachary Schafer to attend a taser instructor course in Huron.