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County tables grant for RV park at fairgrounds

by DANIEL RADFORD
Staff Writer | July 27, 2022 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners voted Tuesday to table a motion to accept a $473,315 grant from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to fund an RV park at the fairgrounds.

While the proposal had the support of some county officials, it drew opposition from Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and supporters, who contend the site is needed for a potential justice center complex.

Darcey Smith, who manages the fairgrounds, said the grant would fund an RV campground on the fairground’s south lawn, next to the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office, just west of the county jail.

The grant comes from the 2023 IDPR RV Fund and would require a 5% match from the Bonner County Fairgrounds budget. The fairgrounds was permitted to apply for the grant following the board’s approval this January.

Commissioner Chair Dan McDonald supported accepting the grant, saying that building the RV park would increase revenue while reducing taxpayer liability.

Right now the fairgrounds takes about $275,000 a year for payroll, according to Smith and McDonald.

“This board’s goal has always been to make the fairgrounds self-sufficient,” McDonald said.

“There is a premium on RV spaces in Bonner County. … If we bring those spots up to market, because we should not be competing with the private sector, they’re gonna not only pay off the $275,000 that they take from the general fund every year which will offer some release, but they’ll also clear anywhere between $100,000-150,000,” the commission chair said.

“If you know the fairgrounds, the front parking lot has needed to be paved for decades. There’s building maintenance that needs to be done,” McDonald said. “So you’re looking at an overall reversal of tax liability for all the taxpayers which is fairly considerable.”

McDonald said the board is looking for additional revenue sources because “we’re in trouble. Inflation is hurting the county. Just the fuel increase is killing us.”

McDonald said he is worried about being able to keep basic services funded, specifically citing winter plowing.

“When you start … looking at the long-range picture, this makes a heck of a lot more sense than leaving that ground fallow.”

The proposed RV park would sit near the area the county and Sandpoint Community Center Corporation had planned to put an ice rink. That agreement was nullified March 1, following public outcry. The land is currently used for additional parking during the county fair and other events as needed.

Wheeler and members of the public shared some concerns about long term implications and unintended consequences for the RV park. Primarily, the possibility of a future “justice complex” on the property. There are currently no plans for an expanded justice complex, county commissioners said.

However, Wheeler said the fairgrounds parking lot is essential for law enforcement operations.

“This same space of property will eventually be used as a parking lot for the justice complex, when and if it is expanded,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also expressed concern, as did several others, that theRV grounds would be located next to BCSO’s evidence yard and near the juvenile detention center.

Creation of the RV park is another example of the commissioners “trying to short-change” law enforcement at “every turn of the dial,” resident Kendra Martin said.

McDonald was quick to point out that the BCSO’s budget has doubled since 2014.

Some doubts arose as to the ability of the BCSO to protect the evidence should the park be built at that location.

“We should be protecting our law enforcement compound with the evidence that’s in that compound as well,” Martin stated.

McDonald, who sits on Bonner County Fair board, said that the proposed park would be relatively easy to demolish, should the justice complex need to be expanded.

Commissioner Jeff Connolly wanted assurances that the RV park could be moved, modified, or demolished either partially or totally without contradicting the terms of the IDPR grant.

Connolly said “right now, it’s sitting there doing nothing. [The RV park] seems like it’s a viable use of [the area].”

“Our goal has been to make everything … that can be self-sufficient and I think that’s our job: not to subsidize these different things with tax-payer money,” Connolly said.

“I would rather pay a few extra cents in my taxes to subsidize the fair versus taking away from what could potentially be used for public safety,” Brian Sylvius said. “If we did a poll you would find that out as a general rule.”

McDonald said the matter was not “an either-or issue.” He did, however, want to ensure that the county “can demo it ten years down the road.”

Commissioner Steve Bradshaw assured those present that the BCSO would never leave evidence unprotected in an open-air lot. “That would be extremely irresponsible.”

“As far as who’s camping in the campground, shady-character type people usually are kind of reluctant to camping out right next to the fence at the sheriff’s department,” Bradshaw said.

Since the ability to modify the grant-funded park, in the planning process or after construction, had not yet been confirmed by the IDPR, the commissioners decided to table the issue until next Tuesday’s meeting.

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