Brown County Commission candidates discuss COVID-19 impact

ABERDEEN, S.D. (By Elisa Sand – Challenges and responses to COVID-19 as well as county priorities were among the topics covered by Brown County Commission candidates in the first of three candidate forums on Thursday.

The Brown County Commission candidate forum was sponsored by the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce. It’s one of three planned in coming days. The next one is Monday at 9 a.m. for the City Council candidates in the Southeast District. A Tuesday forum is planned at 1 p.m. for candidates running for school board. The candidate forums are broadcast live on Facebook and via Zoom, which requires a registration. Information about upcoming candidate forums and registration can be found at

The election for both the city and school board candidates is June 2. Voters will decide the county commission candidates Nov. 3. Incumbent Republicans Rachel Kippley and Duane Sutton are both seeking re-election. Democrat Michael Nehls of Groton is their challenger.

Sutton has been commissioner since 2008, Kippley since 2012. Sutton is co-owner of the Millstone. Kippley runs a tax preparation business and she and her husband farm near Aberdeen. Nehls spent 30 years as Groton police chief and anther eight years as Mobridge police chief.

Asked if COVID-19 has posed challenges for the county, each of the candidates noted that city budgets will be hit harder than county budgets. That’s because the majority of the county’s revenue comes from property taxes. City budgets include both sales tax and property tax revenues.

That being said, Nehls said, there may be long-term challenges with people who aren’t able to pay their property taxes.

Sutton, who has long fought for a slice of sales tax revenues for counties, said it could be a blessing that counties haven’t been successful in that quest. But, he also agreed there may be others who will struggle to pay their property taxes.

“We’ll have a better idea on the impact in the next two or three weeks as the first half of property taxes become due,” Sutton said.

Kippley agreed with Nehls and Sutton, adding that COVID-19 has also compounded some of the financial difficulties some residents were already facing.

Asked if any furloughs have happened as a result of COVID-19, Kippley and Sutton said no, although there have been positions that haven’t been filled and the county’s 24-7 program has been temporarily suspended. That’s a program where twice-daily court-ordered breath tests are done.

Candidates were later asked when a decision was expected with respect to the Brown County Fair.

Kippley said the goal is to make a decision by June 10.

“All indications are they’re going to go forward with it,” she said. “Some is not in their control.”

Sutton said he’d like to see the fair go on as planned to give residents something to look forward to. Nehls also said he’d like to see the fair happen.

“But we have to be careful about it,” Nehls said.

As for other priorities, all agreed maintenance of roads and bridges should be a priority for the county. Sutton and Kippley both noted recent cuts that happened to balance this year’s budget and the fact that those cuts hit the highway’s budget.