In defense of the fairgrounds campground — Part 2

By Luke Omodt, Bonner County Commissioner Dist. 3
Reader Contributor

Money doesn’t grow on trees or empty fields. There are two ways local governments generate revenue: taxes or fees for service. The proposed Bonner County Fairground RV campground expansion is the latter. Campground visitors would generate revenue that could be used for upkeep and maintenance of the fairgrounds, avoiding tax increases and improving the facilities for all of Bonner County.

Luke Omodt. File photo.

This is Part 2 of an article on a proposed RV campground expansion, intended to inform Bonner County residents about local government. Part 2 gave a brief history of the Bonner County Fairgrounds from its conception in 1927 through today. 

On Aug. 2, 2022, Bonner County accepted a grant from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) of $473,315 to expand the fairgrounds RV campground with a $25,000 match from the Fair Board to be paid from monies earned from campground fees, ticket sales and building rentals, bringing the total project cost to $498,315. This grant was originally supported by the Fair Board and continually opposed by Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler. 

Wheeler contends that the proposed expansion is on Sheriff’s Department property promised for a new justice center. According to Idaho Code (31-807), all county property is managed and controlled by the commissioners. There is no evidence to support the claim of a promised justice center. 

A justice center would include a new courthouse, office space and jail. The existing courthouse is 45,000 square feet, was renovated for $6.5 million and reopened in 2013, and Bonner County has one of the newer jails in the state. Nez Perce County is building an 86,000-square-foot courthouse at a cost of $50.6 million. A 180,000-square-foot Bonner County Justice Center would cost local taxpayers more than $100 million in today’s dollars, or approximately $2,000 for every man, woman and child living in Bonner County. 

In March 2023, a parking study of the fairgrounds — which has approximately 800 parking spaces — was completed. Using a baseline of 2,500 visitors, it was determined that 900-1,300 parking spaces would be necessary. The 2023 Sandpoint Renaissance Faire was estimated to have had 3,500 visitors per day. The fairgrounds doesn’t have enough parking space to meet existing demand. 

Bonner County has employed the same engineering firm since 2009 to improve the fairgrounds; in a conceptual rendering it was shown that there is enough room for both a new justice center, 200 parking spaces and the RV park expansion. The prior Fair Board was in favor of the grant; the current board has indicated a willingness to turn down long-term revenue while continuing to accept local tax dollars.

On June 21, 2023, the board of commissioners received correspondence from IDPR deeming the best course of action was to not extend the grant at this time for the following reasons:

• The lack of a current, completed bid;

• The opposition of the Bonner County Fair Board to the campground expansion;

• The absence of an executed construction contract makes it impossible to determine whether the project can be completed within the next year.

That same day, the board of commissioners conducted a bid opening for this project. Five of seven bids were within budget, with construction starting in September to be completed in spring 2024.

Bonner County is the real property owner of the fairgrounds and the proposed RV expansion property, and the commissioners are also responsible for the county budget, according to state statute. Ultimately it is the taxpayers who decide what their wallets can afford. 

Do you support increased local taxes instead of revenue generated by visitors? 

When an available win-win opportunity exists that could serve Bonner County for generations to come, this commissioner says “no” to additional taxes. 

If you have questions, email me at [email protected]. 

Bonner County is home and I pay taxes, too.

Luke Omodt represents District 3 on the Bonner County Board of Commissioners, comprising the areas immediately north of Sandpoint and the eastern portion of the county.

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