42 Years Of Service
For most of his adult life Adrian Heitmann has served his community.
The 1972 Britton High School graduate recently retired from his spot on the Lake City Council – after 42 years. And he served as chairman of that board for three-fourths of those years.
Despite the fact that the Marshall County town has a population of only 50 people, it still has to deal with the same problems as larger communities but doesn’t have access to the same types of funding or manpower.
“The thing about a small town is that you have all the problems of a big town but not very many people to do the work,” said Heitmann.
Heitmann was encouraged to run for the city board at the young age of 22.
“John Vrchota was on the board at the time and encouraged me to run. I did and got on the board, and shortly after that John moved to Britton.”
Little did Heitmann expect that he would continue to serve on that board for the next 42 years, but it has been a rewarding experience and one he would encourage others to consider. The community recently voted to expand its city council from three to five members, so the opportunity is there.
“You don’t really know what’s going on in the community and can’t appreciate what people on the board do unless you’ve actually done it yourself,” said Heitmann. “A lot of people have a lot of answers and ideas, but you can’t really understand until you get in there and look at both sides of issues. When you’re on the board you have to look out for everybody in the community.”
Funding is always the biggest challenge. Lake City doesn’t levy any taxes on the local level and gets all of its funding from the Lake City Municipal.
“The city owns the bar and for a lot of years the bar could keep up with the funds the city spent,” Heitmann noted. “But for the last few years it has been a little tougher to do that. We have a little money in reserve but it’s getting tougher every year.”
Heitmann said that the community rejected the idea of instituting a property tax but did get a one percent sales tax “pushed through.”
“Most people didn’t think the sales tax would help much because there wasn’t much sold in town. And there’s not a lot, but a few thousand dollars in a town this size is substantial.”
Most rewarding for Heitmann during his 42-year career on the town board was getting a new water system for the community.
“We had an old railroad well that we used that was 14 feet across and 70 feet deep and all dug by hand, but we had all kinds of trouble trying to keep the water safe for drinking and meeting state regulations.”
But change didn’t come easily. Lake City was not charging residents for water at that time, but in order to qualify for state funding the town was required to set a fee schedule. The water rate was set at a minimum of $20 per month, which is the same today.
“I think people wanted to hang me, along with whoever else was on the town board,” recalled Heitmann.
But with a lot of hard work, Lake City was able to connect with BDM Rural Water.
“Governor Janklow was in Pierre at the time, and by talking with Senator Curt Jones and the governor we got an 80 percent grant, which was pretty much unheard of,” said Heitmann. “Pat Flanery and I also met with the state water board in Pierre and took along pieces of piping out of the well that were covered with rust and the cruddy stuff from the water we had been using, and ended up with another 10 percent grant. The city only had to pay 10 percent of the project.”
Most of all, Heitmann is proud of his town.
“Lake City is a nice little town to live in. When you drive through it doesn’t look like a typical little town. We have a nice city park that a lot of people stop and use, we still have a post office and bar and other community-type things. Our Fourth of July parade has turned into quite a deal, and the city bought the former Catholic Church to serve as a community center.”
Now it’s time to pass the torch. Heitmann admitted it was a little strange to not be attending board meetings this summer after his final session in May.
“It was just time. My wife, Deena, is retired now, and if we want to do something we don’t have to worry about being in town. If you are on the board you almost feel responsible. If there’s a big blizzard you want to make sure the roads are open, or if the alarm goes off at the bar it takes 20 minutes to get a policeman here, so you drive up there to see what you can see. Even something as simple as spraying mosquitoes, you have to line somebody up.”
But he has no regrets.
“There are very few thankyous, and lots of times you do things that you don’t get paid to do. But I have no regrets. I learned a lot by being on the board and met a lot of neat people. And time flies when you’re having fun.”