County accepts loan to complete courthouse remodel

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SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners accepted a $600,000 loan offer from Mountain West Bank Tuesday to complete remodeling at the courthouse.

With a 2.85-percent interest rate, the county will pay nearly $82,000 in interest over the life of the 10-year loan.

The loan is $200,000 higher than anticipated due to several recent change orders to improve the surveillance camera system, additional sound insulation to keep jury deliberations from being overheard, additional data wiring and a new secure reception counter for deputy county clerks.

The change orders were requested after courts and clerk staff did a walk-through of the building.

“This pushes the (re-opening) date back to mid-March,” Commission Chairman Cornel Rasor said.

A 1st District Court judge confirmed last month that outside financing and indebtedness beyond a single fiscal year was justifiable given counties are responsible for providing court facilities.

But Commissioner Mike Nielsen bristled at the timing of the change orders and questioned whether they could be deemed justifiable expenses if they were not before the court when judicial confirmation was granted.

Nielsen speculated that the additional change orders surfaced once it became clear that a court was blessing financing to complete the remodel.

“It’s like we opened the floodgates after we got this approved,” said Nielsen.

Commissioners-elect Cary Kelly and Joyce Broadsword disagreed.

“You have the latitude to interpret that (court ruling) and pass what’s necessary,” Kelly told his future colleagues on the board.

Broadsword also believes the expenses are legitimate.

“There is never a complete picture until that final walk-through,” she said.

Nielsen, however, agreed that it would less expensive to do the work before drywall and other finish work is done.

Commissioner Lewis Rich pointed out that loan interest would be a fraction of what Mountain West is charging if the county loaned itself the money.

Rasor and Nielsen are seeking an attorney general’s opinion on whether inter-fund transfers are allowable under Idaho law. They contend the law clearly prohibits the practice.

But Rich and county Clerk Marie Scott counter that such transfers are routinely done throughout the state.

“There’s 25 counties hanging in the balance on this,” said Rich.

It was also revealed Tuesday that $241,000 of district court funding appears to have been improperly applied to the remodeling effort. Idaho Code holds that district court funding cannot be used for courthouse construction or remodeling.

“The judges want repayment and it’s required by law,” said Scott Bauer, the board’s civil counsel.

Commissioners anticipated the district court fund will have to be made whole during the next budget-setting cycle.

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