COEUR d'ALENE - A bill was introduced into the Senate State Affairs Committee on a unanimous vote Friday that would earmark $11 million for a new veterans home in North Idaho if it passes.
Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, presented Senate Bill 1104 which would provide state matching funds to build a fourth veterans home in Idaho.
"I was really happy to get unanimous support on this bill," he said. "That's encouraging."
Three other veterans homes already have been constructed in Pocatello, Boise and Lewiston, Nonini said.
"With 18,000 plus veterans in the five counties of North Idaho, we think the next one should be in North Idaho," Nonini said, adding it would make sense to locate it in Post Falls.
"Post Falls has certainly showed the intent," he said. "There has been a great concerted effort to locate it there."
Nonini said the $11 million is 35 percent of the overall cost of the project, which would be considered matching funds to make the project eligible for U.S. Veterans Administration funding to cover the rest of the cost.
"If we get the state funding, then hopefully we can get the federal money appropriated for the home," he said.
Len Crosby, who has been working on the veterans home project for several years, said he was encouraged that the bill got introduced unanimously.
He said if the bill passes, it will clear the way for the state to apply for the 65 percent Veterans Administration grant program.
"It is still likely to take several years," he said, but added Post Falls could jump ahead of other projects if they have all the pieces in place.
Crosby said all of the veteran home projects are ranked in order of need, but sometimes if one state project that shows greater need is not ready to build, the VA could go down the list to find the next state that is ready.
"Utah, which is ranked lower than Idaho, just got one last year simply because they were ready," Crosby said.
"My impression of the next step we need to take is to have the state inform the VA that it has the 35 percent matching money and a location," Crosby said.
In 2013, Nonini said the Legislature set up the Veterans Recognition Fund with proceeds that have been generated by Idaho's three other veterans homes.
"Those funds are designated solely to serve veterans, with a priority for injured veterans," he said.
He said if the bill passes, it would complete the next step in a several year process to establish a home in North Idaho.
Nonini said several Post Falls citizens have helped to move the project along over the years.
"So much work has gone into this over the years from people like Len Crosby, Clay Larkin and Frank Henderson," Nonini said, adding several legislators have also contributed time to the effort in Boise.
Former State Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, did a lot of work on the veterans home while he served in the Legislature, Nonini said. Currently Reps. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene, Ron Mendive, R-Post Falls, and Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, have been really helping to push the legislation.
"Cheatham has also asked to co-sponsor the bill," Nonini said.
Nonini said if the bill passes it would give the Administrator of the Division of Veterans Services and the Veterans Commission the authority to locate the building sight.
"I have been working closely with the Division Administrator on this," Nonini said. "And, so far, I think everyone is on the same page with this."