Kootenai Courthouse Gives Commissioners Wiggle Room Officials Embrace New Offices Built Without Voter Approval
Two Kootenai County commissioners will dedicate a new county office building today, three years after pledging never to build one without voter approval.
But voters weren’t asked whether the $4.8 million office complex was a good idea. All three commissioners today insist it was.
Three years ago this week, Dick Compton and Dick Panabaker - then commissioner candidates - held a press conference on the courthouse lawn to swear that, if elected, they would seek voter approval before spending money on a new office building.
Today, the two Republican commissioners will stand a few yards from that spot and dedicate that new building.
They’ll also host an open house and have a 2 p.m. ceremony commemorating completion of the 43,000-square-foot building that bears a plaque with their names on it.
Alongside them will be Commissioner Ron Rankin, who also opposed the project but was elected after it was started.
The idea of a new courthouse annex has been kicked around for years, but was never acted on until County Clerk Tom Taggart came up with a way to pay for it.
State law requires voter approval to seek long-term debt, but Taggart and commissioners feared the public would not approve a multimillion-dollar expense. Instead, Taggart proposed a lease-purchase agreement with the Idaho Association of Counties.
The county would make annual payments, solve its space crunch, eliminate rent on some buildings, and never need an additional tax levy.
In 1994, Panabaker, Compton and Rankin all cried foul. Each insisted voters should make the decision.
By the time they took office in January 1995, however, Compton and Panabaker had softened their stance. They decided to go ahead with Taggart’s plan.
Rankin, who took office two years later, eventually came around, too.
“I would have preferred to see it come to a vote,” said Rankin. “But I think in this instance, they made a decision that’s worked out very well.”
From a seat in a meeting room down the hall from his new office, Panabaker on Tuesday admitted he’d spoken out of turn in 1994. He admits he “hammered” on his incumbent opponent, Democrat Mike Anderson, because he didn’t understand the proposal.
“After I got in here, I found out it was the right thing to do,” Panabaker said.
But Compton refused to acknowledge he had broken a promise.
“We’ve been very open about the process and what we’ve been doing,” said Compton, who has one of the biggest new offices with the best view. “There’s not been one single complaint - not one postcard.”
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