In defense of the fairgrounds RV park

‘Why this commissioner remains committed to this project’

By Commissioner Luke Omodt, Dist. 3
Reader Contributor

The first Bonner County Fair was held in 1927 at the original fairgrounds at War Memorial Park. Twenty communities were represented, and it was sponsored by Bonner County and the Sandpoint Kiwanis Club. The first fair board was formed in 1930; some of the family names from these early years such as Albertson, Anselmo, Culver and McNall — as well as organizations such as the Bonner County Sportsmen Association and Kiwanis — remain involved with the fair today.

In 1960, Bonner County purchased 40 acres of land on North Boyer Avenue that were to become the new fairgrounds. In 1963, the fair applied for an Accelerated Public Works Grant to help with building on the new grounds after the Sandpoint City Council decided not to extend the lease on the War Memorial Field grounds. In 1967, plans for the new fairgrounds were presented to the public; the cost for construction was to be paid for from a building levy fund and the fair operation levy with a proposed relocation date in 1970. 

In 2009, the first of five proposed phases of an RV park was added to the fairgrounds as an amenity and a way to generate revenue to support fairgrounds maintenance and operations.

Bonner County Commissioner Luke Omodt. Courtesy photo.

The 2022 Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation grant to expand the RV campground is a continuation of the longstanding practice of the Bonner County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) and Bonner County Fair Board (BCFB) working together. The Bonner County fairgrounds has relied on publicly funded grants, civic groups and churches from its inception in 1927 for improvements to avoid additional burdens to our local taxpayers.

In a letter dated March 28, 2001, then-Fairgrounds Manager Sharon Bryant requested a meeting with the BOCC “to go over some of the budgetary and management problems I have been encountering ever since I took over the management of the Fairgrounds … The previous commissioners told me they want me to become self-supporting.” 

In fiscal year 2023, Bonner County provided $405,000 for ribbons, salaries and benefits of fairground staff.

On March 22, 2023 the BOCC and BCFB signed a memorandum of understanding clarifying the relationship between the county and the Fair Board. The county provides the Fair Board use of legal counsel (except where there is a conflict of interest), information technology support, risk management, internal auditing, human resources, and additional support from departments such as Road and Bridge.       

One of the general provisions in the MOU is, “Authority to Apply for and Administer Grants. As the fee-simple owner of the fairgrounds, the County shall be solely responsible for all grants which may affect or impact that property, and the Board of County Commissioners shall be the entity responsible for grant application, administration, and compliance.”

Management of the fairgrounds has and always will be a challenge, with events including the fair, rodeo, demolition derby, motocross, emergency firefighting campsite, RV campground and grad night, to name a few.

The county commissioners are always considering how to provide our statutorily mandated services in a fiscal environment where costs are skyrocketing and our budget is capped at 3% growth per year. For context, Bonner County’s population grew 4% last year, inflation through May of 2023 is at 5.25% and median home prices are around $600,000.

In a future article, I will address the controversy surrounding the Idaho Parks and Recreation grant related to the fairgrounds, and provide perspective and evidence for why this commissioner remains committed to this project. 

If you are interested in reading the Bonner County Fair Board MOU or have general questions about anything in this article, send me questions at [email protected]. 

Raising taxes and denying revenue makes no sense for this and all other local taxpayers.

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.