BoCo v. Governor suit over CARES Act funds sees ‘amicable resolution’

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

A lawsuit between Bonner County and Idaho Gov. Brad Little regarding the allocation and use of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds has come to an end, with commissioners announcing that the suit saw an “amicable resolution” in December 2020.

On July 14, commissioners voted to file a complaint against Little and several other Idaho officials, alleging that the state’s interpretation of how to distribute money authorized under the CARES Act was inaccurate. 

Commissioner Dan McDonald told the Reader at the time that “none of what the state is telling us is found in the outline from the Treasury Department was passed by Congress,” and expressed concern that the elected officials of Bonner County would be charged with crimes should they mishandle the funds under the state’s advice.

“[W]e had grave concerns about the differing messages being received,” McDonald told the Reader on March 8.

Commissioner Jeff Connolly was the sole “nay” vote when the board considered filing the complaint, while McDonald and Commissioner Steve Bradshaw supported the litigation.

“My objection is, here we are, suing another entity, again … I’m saying there’s a better way to do it,” Connolly told the Reader in July.

The objection went forward on a vote of 2-1, and the state moved to dismiss the case in early October on the grounds that the county’s argument was “misguided and legally flawed,” and that because the county failed to officially apply for the CARES Act funds before the state-mandated deadline, their “claims are moot due to the county’s own decisions and inaction.”

According to a Bonner County media release, the county “preserved its right to receive funds under the program by timely submitting a letter of intent to participate while also seeking a declaration from the United States District Court to clarify several aspects of the program and to ensure that the use of such funds would be permissible under federal law.”

In November, the Treasury Department released new guidance to help municipal governments navigate the ins and outs of requesting CARES Act funds — guidance that Bonner County announced “makes it clear that the County is legally entitled to reimbursement of its payroll costs for public health and public safety employees.” The county has since submitted $1.1 million in expenses for reimbursement.

“[W]e were able to recapture not just COVID-related expenses that were not in our original budget, but [were] also able to include payroll values for EMS which was the big-ticket item,” McDonald told the Reader on March 8.

Additionally, through communication with the state’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee, Bonner County will be able to participate in a new property tax relief program similar to the governor’s Public Safety Initiative, which provided 10% to 20% reductions in tax bills for residents of counties who opted in. 

Bonner County did not originally choose to participate in the tax relief initiative due to what officials saw as discrepancies between federal and state guidance. According to the county, CFAC is supporting a new program for counties who opted out the first time.

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