Bonner County may be dropped from the state insurance program because of mounting lawsuits over decisions by two new commissioners.
“The events of this year have brought our relationship to a point at which an understanding must be reached or we must go our separate ways,” Tom Katsilometes said in a letter to commissioners.
Katsilometes is board chairman for the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program (ICRMP). The program, which provides insurance for many of the state’s counties, said Bonner County now is a poor risk. The program no longer can afford to defend some of the county’s controversial decisions, Katsilometes said.
The ICRMP board has requested Bonner County find a new insurance company for the 1998 calendar year. Commissioners plan to appeal the decision so they can remain in the insurance pool.
“ICRMP is concerned about the present situation and rightfully so,” said Commissioner Dale Van Stone, who has disagreed with many of the county decisions that have led to lawsuits.
“We are going to see what we can do to get back in good graces. But even if they do keep us, our premium is going to go up.”
The county now pays an annual insurance premium of about $202,600. It’s possible the premium could go up $200,000.
What touched off the insurance companies’ concern was actions by commissioners Bud Mueller and Larry Allen, both Republicans. Shortly after taking office the two commissioners abolished the building department, building codes and fired the department’s eight employees.
A judge ruled the meeting where the drastic changes were made was illegal. The county now will have to pay attorney fees and back wages to the employees. The fired employees also have an $8.8 million lawsuit pending against the county.
Without consulting the insurance company the two commissioners held another meeting, this time legally, and abolished the department and fired employees a second time.
“Representatives of the ICRMP Board met with your board and were told that ICRMP was one of the least of your board’s worries concerning the affairs of the county,” Katsilometes wrote.
“Such a posture is perilous to ICRMP and unfairly imposes burdens upon its members who contribute to the common pool…. It appears our message and manner of doing business are unacceptable to your county.”
Van Stone said ICRMP is the best deal for the county’s insurance. A new company will charge more, especially after seeing the county was dropped from the program. ICRMP is not trying to tell the county how to do business, he added, but “telling us to cover our backside when we do it.”
Commissioners plan to meet with the ICRMP board later this month to try to hash out an agreement.
“We regret this step has become necessary, but we must consider the interest of all program participants,” Katsilometes said. “This is not a step we take lightly, nor is it one we relish.”