Ending a year-long deadlock between a local highway district and its residents, the Kootenai County commissioners voted Wednesday to reject half a million dollars worth of funding mechanisms the district had approved against rampant public protest.
"They had to make a decision, and we'll have to see if it goes to court," said Jimmie Dorsey, outgoing commissioner of East Side Highway District.
Unprecedented in state history to the county's knowledge, the commissioners met as an appellate body to review East Side's approval of three local improvement districts, required by state law due to the amount of public objections.
The LIDs would have brought in $569,000 from district property owners, to help fund overlays in Coeur d'Alene and Harrison.
The road work is already fully paid; the LIDs were intended to make up for dollars spent on a 7 percent match for a federal grant late last year.
The county commissioners heartily agreed the district had made a savvy business deal in landing the end-of-the-year grant, which covered about 92 percent of the overlays.
"It's a great return on their investment," said Commissioner Dan Green.
But he disagreed with pursuing LIDs that would only be paid into by property owners directly affected by the projects.
"Should it be addressed district-wide, or site specific?" Green said, reflecting that some would pay hundreds, others thousands, into the LIDs. "I think these decisions are (felt) district wide."
Commissioners Jai Nelson and Todd Tondee complained that two of the three overlays have already been completed, before the funding mechanisms were even officially created.
Under state statute, they noted, LIDs should be finalized before related work contracts are made.
"The LIDs should have been done before the grant became available," Tondee said.
He did acknowledge the highway district has authority to create an LID without a public vote.
Nelson worried that East Side residents were denied due process at a district hearing in April, where folks were given only two minutes to speak.
The officials each spoke of their discomfort with the role they played on Wednesday. They questioned the state law that requires county commissioners to review a highway district's decision if enough written protest is submitted.
"I do think this is inappropriate," Nelson said of one elected body critiquing another. "No matter what we decide, either side has the ability to take this to District Court, and I have a feeling that will happen. That's where this decision should be made."
The commissioners voted unanimously on the LIDs for Sunnyside, O'Gara and Burma roads. Green recused himself from the Burma vote, as he owns a vacant lot in the area.
Jim Trittin, a Harrison resident who would have paid more than $1,400 into the Burma Road LID, lauded the commissioners' votes.
"Why should I pay $1,500 so they could have a new road?" he said, referring to non-residents who use the thoroughfare.
Dorsey said he still stands by the district's actions.
East Side's two new incoming commissioners will decide whether to fight the county's decision in district court, he added.
Chris Fillios, East Side commissioner elect, said he would prefer to find the dollars another way.
"I have serious reservations about taking this further," Fillios said. "I think we need to explore other options."