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County: Bond needed to tackle growing solid waste issues

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | May 12, 2021 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A decision by the Bonner County Republican Central Committee to come out against the county's solid waste bond is baffling, Bonner County Commission Chairman Dan McDonald said.

"I thought Republicans stood for lower fees and taxes yet they are opposing a bond measure that allows the county to take out a low interest loan, at 1.75%, that will assure rates stay flat," McDonald said.

McDonald said failure of the bond could result in a dramatic increase in the solid waste yearly user fee. "So by opposing the bond, the BCRCC is supporting dramatically higher fees," he said.

The central committee recently recommended against the $8.72 million bond and against a $3.4 million supplemental levy proposed by the West Bonner County School District. BCRCC officials said the recommendation is based on a principle against incurring debt. Instead, the committee said the matter should be placed on the November ballot.

McDonald said BCRCC officials' claim that voters haven't had enough time understand the issue doesn't make sense. McDonald said officials have been discussing the issue since 2019 speaking to local media about the proposed bond and resultant project and holding three public workshops. In all, county officials were clear, McDonald said, the goal was to get the rate to the point where the county could qualify for a low interest loan.

"Taking a loan and doing the work now, when it will be the lowest costs we will see, saves the taxpayers from paying the extra costs due to inflation," McDonald said. "So not only is the interest rate low, and not only does the loan allow us to not dramatically increase solid waste fees, but the taxpayers also realize the savings from not being strapped with inflationary costs in the future."

Much of the loan would pay for improvements at the Colburn waste transfer site, including a new waste transfer building, improvements to the existing transfer building, a new household hazardous waste disposal building and general improvements. In addition, it would cover improvements to some of the other transfer sites like Dufort, Dickensheet and Idaho Hill.

The loan would be paid back over 10 years at a 1.75% interest rate. There would be no increased cost to property owners and the loan would be repaid through a fee increase adopted in September 2019, McDonald said.

The bond allows the county to apply for the USDA low-interest loan and does not increase solid waste fees. It also allows the county to make some much-needed improvements to a system last updated in 1996 and which has seen the amount of trash it handles more than double from that time and 2018.

The county is at a critical juncture, McDonald said.

Trash is having to be handled two or three times, and its household hazardous waste facility was shut down by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality because it failed to meet standards. That has forced the county to use a more expensive outside contractor, adding cost and inconvenience to local residents, he said.

The solid waste bond will increase efficiency, cut costs and help the county tackle a growing problems with its waste transfer capacity.

"[It's] something that can no longer be ignored," McDonald said.