County solid waste improvement plan sees overhaul, contract awarded

BoCo commissioners also approve H.R. policy updates, reject proposal to stream special meetings

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

Bonner County commissioners addressed motions from a wide swath of county departments at the board’s May 9 business meeting, casting unanimous votes in favor of finalizing a contract for improvements to the county’s solid waste facilities as well as long-debated updates to human resources code.

It was the first meeting in weeks not dominated by discussion of the grant from the Idaho Department Parks and Recreation meant to fund an RV campground extension at the Bonner County Fairgrounds. The project’s possible location has been hotly debated for nearly a year, dividing elected officials and members of the public into different camps. 

The RV park did not appear on the May 9 agenda, and, aside from a couple of mentions during the hour-long public comment period at the top of the meeting, Commissioner Luke Omodt addressed the issue briefly during his District 3 Commissioner Update, reporting that he is working on writing a grant extension request to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. He said the request will be brought before the board for a vote “when it is ready.” 

The IDPR grant must see movement by June, according to county officials, in order for Bonner County to utilize the $473,000 in state funds.

Elsewhere on the May 9 agenda, Bonner County Solid Waste Engineer Spencer Ferguson presented a contract with Bonners Ferry construction company S & L Underground, which earned the winning bid to apply major improvements to the Colburn Waste Transfer Site.

The contract is the latest step in a multi-year saga to update the county’s ailing solid waste system — particularly Colburn, where all waste is processed. In preparation for those improvements, the county approved a 62% rate hike for annual dump use in 2019 and voters approved a special bond in 2021 to allow for the county to apply for an $8.7 million USDA loan meant to fund updates at the Colburn, Idaho Hill, Dickensheet and Dufort dump sites.

Those updates were advised and outlined by outside consultant Great West Engineering in a 10-year capital improvements plan.

Commissioners unanimously approved the S & L Underground contract May 9 for about $6.3 million, and Ferguson took the opportunity to update the public on what has changed in the two years since voters approved the $8.7 million bond. Most notably, Colburn will now be the only waste site seeing improvements under the loan.

“When we went to bid the first time, our bids came in double what our engineer’s estimate was, so we went back to the drawing board and we cut all those other sites out,” he said. “Then, we [considered] Colburn and we cut out as much as we could and broke it up as much as we could so that we could award as much as we could out of the budget we had set years ago.”

The discrepancy between the contract and loan amounts is due to the loan needing to also cover interest costs, which will depend on the timeline of the project.

“I will say we are comfortable,” Ferguson said. “We have some contingency and maybe a little extra. If we don’t have any surprises we can spend a little more and get more of what we wanted done. I’m pretty comfortable with our budget and where it’s at.

“The costs are always going up,” he added, “but, through the redesign process, we did a lot of cost-saving stuff there, and I think that if we look at the overall project — which we will plan on getting done in an incremental manner — I think we’re going to have a better product than our first bid.”

In other business, commissioners approved a slew of personnel code updates, including several items appearing on the agenda for the fifth time. Those changes — to the county’s grievance procedure, rules of employee conduct, discriminatory workplace harassment, employee discipline and whistleblower policies — were suggested by outside legal counsel and recommended by Human Resources Director Cindy Binkerd. 

While Commissioner Asia Williams has consistently placed the items on the weekly agenda, Omodt and Chairman Steve Bradshaw have voted them down, citing a desire to meet with Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall to get his take on the updates.

Omodt said he’d had the chance to ask Marshall his questions, most notably: “Are we going to get sued and is this going to cost the taxpayer additional funds?”

According to Omodt, Marshall recommended the items be put back on the agenda for a vote. All of the updates were unanimously approved, as well as a motion to sunset the county’s COVID-19 paid leave policy since the national pandemic emergency is set to end Thursday, May 11.

Finally, Williams brought forth a proposal to stream all meetings — including special meetings outside of regular Tuesday business agendas — on platforms YouTube or Rumble. Currently, not all commissioner meetings are streamed, resulting in numerous public records requests, Williams said, as well as conflicts for county employees who have pre-scheduled commitments but who may still want to review the board’s actions.

Omodt opposed the idea, stating he met with the county’s technology department and was informed it would require hiring another tech employee to ensure all meetings could be covered.

“I am opposed to hiring another staff member merely to facilitate this, because we are growing government, and I’m not prepared to do that,” he said.

Williams countered that, considering the cost of paying employees to fulfill records requests, paying for more streaming “would potentially be an exchange.”

Williams voted in favor of her motion while Omodt and Bradshaw voted against it. Bradshaw did not take part in the discussion.

Williams also moved to publish the informational packets commissioners receive ahead of business meetings to the county website for public access, as well as to mitigate public records requests. All three commissioners voted in favor, and BOCC Business Operations Manager Jessi Reinbold made note that her office would do its best to make the packets available online on Fridays when the Tuesday agenda is published.

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