A group pushing for a veterans cemetery near Sioux Falls might need to come up with nearly $10 million before the state government gets on board.
Officials with the South Dakota Veterans Council say they were “blindsided” Thursday morning when lawmakers suggested the group should accrue at least $9.4 million in an endowment fund before the state kicks in the $600,000 its being asked for to cover the initial operating costs at what would be South Dakota’s first state-run veterans cemetery.
A federal grant would cover the estimated $6 million construction bill for the facility, tentatively slated to go where the city of Sioux Falls owns land northeast of town.
Terry Paulson, president of the S.D. Veterans Council, said the news that there could be a higher hurdle came during a committee meeting Thursday morning where a pair of veterans cemetery related bills were being discussed.
“We were blindsided with an unreasonable amendment,” he said Thursday afternoon. “It was shocking, to say the least, that $9.4 million was hungover our heads.”
Paulson said the Veterans Council has long planned to start an endowment that would eventually grow to an amount that would cover operating costs at the cemetery, estimated by the organization to be about $130,000 a year.
But Sen. Jim Stalzer, the prime sponsor of the veterans cemetery related bills, said the South Dakota Bureau of Financial and Management’s estimates operational costs could be as high as $300,000, which prompted the $9.4 million endowment benchmark to be floated.
Like Paulson, Stalzer said that amount is too high and would put the cemetery out of reach.
That’s not because the Veterans Council couldn’t come up with the money, he said. Rather, timelines for applying for the federal grant are fast approaching and can’t be submitted unless the state and local portions of the project are locked in.
“That $9.4 million, if that’s what it has to be, it would kill it,” Stalzer said. “If we don’t get this done, we’ll lose our place in line” with the VA National Cemetery Administration.
Stalzer said after meeting with BFM and Gov. Dennis Daugaard Thursday afternoon, he remains confident the administration and the Legislature can come to terms on a different number that would be more easily attainable for the S.D. Veterans Council.
Daugaard said he’s supportive of a veterans cemetery near Sioux Falls, but can’t sign on until its clear the facility would be sustainable.
“We are having conversations with the veterans groups that are in support of this and we all need to agree upon what is the cost,” he said. “That sort of thing is what the appropriations committee needs to know and I think the parties are working toward that information.”
The committee took no action and take up the matter again at a future meeting.