Judge rules in favor of district in levy suit

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

A decision has been reached in a case brought by a Bonner County taxpayer challenging the validity of the Lake Pend Oreille School District’s $12.7 million permanent levy. First District Judge Barbara Buchanan issued a 16-page decision and order Monday, March 16 granting the school district’s motion for summary judgment and denying a summary judgment motion filed by Bonner County resident Don Skinner, who argued the levy’s outcome should be voided because the ballot didn’t include mandatory language disclosing the tax impact on landowners if the levy passed.

On March 12, 2019, LPOSD submitted to voters a two-year supplemental levy for $12.7 million per year for two years. The levy was approved by district voters in a 4,265-4,034 vote Nov. 5, 2019. The ballot did not include a newly required disclosure setting forth the estimated average annual cost to taxpayers. The requirement was made valid by an amendment to Idaho code on July 1, 2019.

Skinner filed an instant action Dec. 23, 2019 seeking a judicial judgment declaring the results of the vote void on the grounds that the election ballot did not disclose the annual cost to taxpayers.

Buchanan’s decision cited case law spanning back to 1922 which stated that regulating statutes are mandatory if invoked prior to a vote and merely directory if invoked after ballots are cast.

“Idaho Supreme Court set forth the standards of statutory construction in election challenges almost a hundred years ago,” Buchanan wrote in the judgment. “…if, as in most cases, [the] statute simply provides that certain acts or things shall be done within a particular time or in a particular manner, and does not declare that their performance is essential to the validity of the election, then they will be regarded as mandatory if they do, and directory if they do not, affect the actual merits of the election.”

Buchanan said for Skinner to prevail on his motion, he would have to present evidence to show that the omitted language from the ballot would have affected the outcome of the election.

“The court … concludes as a matter of law that the plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of presenting some evidence to show that the omission of the statutory disclosure language affected the merits or outcome of the election,” Buchanan wrote in conclusion to the judgment.

Additional reporting by Zach Hagadone.

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