Despite a plague of lawsuits against the county and questionable decisions by commissioners, Bonner County won’t be dumped by its insurance carrier.
But the cost of staying in the program will be steep. The county’s insurance premium will rise about $240,000.
“I think it’s a huge increase, but given the claims history of the county, an increase was inevitable,” said Commissioner Larry Allen. “The county has cost ICRMP (the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program) more than it’s paid them.”
The Risk Management Program is a nonprofit organization run by county officials across the state. It provides insurance to about 500 cities and counties in Idaho.
Bonner County was about to be dropped from the program after new Commissioners Bud Mueller and Allen made some controversial decisions days after taking office.
They abolished the building department and building codes and fired eight employees. A flurry of lawsuits followed, including an $8.8 million claim by the fired workers.
Under the new insurance agreement, county commissioners, department heads and other employees will receive training on how to avoid being sued.
“There are some things that need to be corrected, but the premium increase was not based solely on the actions of this commission,” said Tom Katsilometes, chairman of the ICRMP board. “The county has had losses over the last six or seven years.”
This year the county paid about $206,000 for its insurance. That cost will more than double for 1998 to about $454,000 annually.
The county reviewed other insurance policies, but they did not offer the same extensive coverage as ICRMP. The county also had little time to try to switch policies, said Risk Manager Jan Morrison. Other polices will be looked at again because the contract with ICRMP is for only one year.
“In the short term, it looks like they are paying more, but I think the commissioners made a prudent decision,” Katsilometes said. “They are getting training, more comprehensive coverage, and the cost could go down next year.”
Allen was not at the closed-door meeting when the new contract was hammered out, and he said he is “not happy” with it.
“I think it takes some authority legally vested in the board of commissioners and gives it away to ICRMP,” he said. “They are asking us to come to them before decisions are made.”
Katsilometes said that is not the case. He gave Mueller and Allen credit for having the guts to keep campaign promises to try to streamline county government. The problem was how the two commissioners carried out their plans.
“They can still get what they want accomplished, but they have to do it in a way that doesn’t expose taxpayers to multimillion-dollar lawsuits,” he said. “I think they now understand that and our training will show them how to do it.”