Meeting on advisory ballot language set for Monday
Staff Writer | March 26, 2023 1:00 AM
SANDPOINT — The phrasing of a measure headed to voters on the use of a disputed parcel near the Bonner County Fairgrounds will be the focus of a Monday meeting.
The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Bonner County Administration Building, 1500 U.S. 2, Sandpoint.
The phrasing of the advisory ballot question is one of two items slated for discussion at the special commission meeting.
Also up for discussion is where on the fairgrounds property the proposed campground could be located.
Commissioners approved placing the measure on the May 16 ballot, capping several weeks of contention and acrimony, both among the board and the public. The advisory ballot, with the language set for a possible decision, would ask voters whether they want the parcel used for a possible RV park or a potential justice center complex.
The RV campground is being funded through a $473,315 grant from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. The grant, which comes from the 2023 IDPR RV Fund, requires a 5% match from the Bonner County Fairgrounds budget. Commissioners approved the application for the grant in January 2022.
The advisory question, which is supported by the Bonner County Republican Central Committee, was proposed by Commissioner Asia Williams at the March 21 BOCC meeting.
The land has been the subject of strong debate and strife for the past several years, first when it was suggested as the site of a possible ice rink, and more recently, as the site of an RV campground.
Some, including Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, contend the property has been long-earmarked for potential expansion of the sheriff's complex to include a justice center. Others, including former county commissioner Dan McDonald, say the property belongs to the county and it doesn't make sense to save it when it could generate money for the county and the fairgrounds.
At the March 21 meeting, several residents spoke in favor of putting how to use the parcel on the ballot — and against an RV campground at the location. Recent growth makes it even more critical to use it for a justice complex, they said.
Those for an RV campsite on the parcel say it is needed to help the Bonner County Fairgrounds be more self-sufficient and bring in needed funds. With a need to pave the front parking lot, and a long list of maintenance needs, adding an RV campground would bring in additional revenue and help fund everything from basic services to needed improvements, supporters of the campground contend.
In suggesting the vote, Williams said conversations with Bonner County Fair Board members indicated a desire to keep the RV campground on existing fairgrounds land. It also makes sense, she told fellow commissioners that it was reasonable for the public to weigh in on the issue since it has been a bone of contention among county officials and the public for several years.
"It's reasonable that this becomes an advisory question to the community of how to use a particular piece of land," she said in proposing the ballot measure.
However, the advisory ballot measure didn't find universal support, with Commissioner Luke Omodt saying state and local statutes place that responsibility firmly in the BOCC's hands. He said he was concerned about the potential impact and long-term financial consequences of such a move.
"This advisory ballot does not discuss the financial impact which would be potentially a negative fiscal impact because this reduces the amount of money that will be necessary to maintain the fairgrounds," Omodt said in explaining his vote. "Part of the reason why, is if I was to put something like this or advocate for it or vote for it, my advisory vote would be: Are you willing in this economic environment to vote yes on a $100 million building in 2023."
The controversial RV campsite location sits in the same where the Sandpoint Community Center Corporation had planned to put an ice rink. County officials nullified an agreement to build the ice rink in March 2022 after a 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 have expressed concerns about potential long-term implications and unintended consequences if the RV park is placed on the disputed site. Primarily, the possibility of a future “justice complex” on the property.
However, several Bonner County commissioners, on both the current and past boards, have said there have been no promises made to earmark the site as a location for such a facility.