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Fair board denies RV campground grant

Staff Writer | May 19, 2023 1:00 AM

The Bonner County Fair Board plans to reject a nearly $500,000 grant to build a proposed RV campground on a disputed parcel between the fairgrounds and the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office.

“At this time, we have not had the opportunity to be a part of the planning for the proposed RV campground,” fair board members said in a letter posted to social media. “Therefore, the board voted to send a letter to [Idaho Parks and Recreation] and the [Bonner County commissioners] informing them that the grant was not in our planning.”

The fair board contended the process did not follow Idaho Code for fairgrounds, preventing their involvement.

“We hope you, as the community, understand why we cannot accept the grant and be a part of it at this point and time,” board members said in the letter.

Bonner County received the Idaho Parks and Recreation grant in mid-2022 for improvements to land adjacent to the Bonner County Fairgrounds for the construction of an RV campground. A reimbursement grant, Bonner County will initially have to initially pay for the project but will be paid back by IDPR once the project is completed.

However, the topic has been a big point of contention in recent months as critics say the land has been unofficially set aside for a new justice center, as the county jail also sits on a piece of land next to the disputed parcel.

In response to the fair board’s letter, former District 3 commissioner Dan McDonald – who was on the board of commissioners throughout the grant application process – said the statement that the fair board has not been involved is false.

“The planning at every stage involved the fair board, who were not only briefed but asked questions,” he wrote in a comment to the post. “Why would the fair board choose to lie about that? And the claim the grant was not planned for is also false.”

McDonald said the grant was planned by the county commissioners after the fair board director at the time asked to submit it.

“The grant application was also approved by the fair board so no, accepting it would not only not be illegal but the fair board doesn't have the authority to accept or reject any grants of this nature as that authority can only be exercised by the county commissioners per state statute,” McDonald said.

Commissioner Luke Omodt, who was elected to the District 3 county commission seat after McDonald opted not to run for reelection, said the grant application was written on fair board letterhead and submitted to the board for approval. He said he was unsure why the board is now claiming it was in no way part of the process.

“As a Gold ‘n’ Grouse 4-H kid in the 1980s, we used to camp outside the pig barn right next to the proposed campground,” Omodt said. “4-H kids are still camping out there today.”

Omodt said the Bonner County Fairgrounds has hundreds of thousands of dollars of deferred maintenance that need to be addressed to protect the county’s rural heritage and traditions. Projects like the campground would aid that effort.

“Asking taxpayers to foot the bill when we can generate revenue to make the fair more self-supporting is not in the best interests of the taxpayer,” he added. “The records clearly show that the fair board has been involved in this process from the beginning through today.”

Commissioner Asia Williams, who has repeatedly opposed the proposed RV campground on the disputed parcel, said the fair is at the heart of the county. However, what should be positive memories are being impacted by what she called a “clear agenda” regarding the fairground RV campground expansion.

“Regardless of a person's position on the issue, the fair board must be involved in fair-related planning,” she said. “[State code] provides guidance regarding administration of state and federal grant funds and outlines the repayment of all or part of a grant. The above was presented to the board for review and consideration repeatedly … As the county moves forward, it is my hope that the board of commissioners will evaluate the actions over the past months and make the necessary changes to improve the overall function of county government which includes communication with the public and those who serve on advisory committees and boards.”

Commissioner Steven Bradshaw declined to comment on the issue.

Despite the fair board’s lack of support going forward, Omodt said the commissioners will proceed with submitting a grant extension for the project as planned.

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