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Taxpayers benefit to tune of $14k from newspaper’s watchdog work




In May, the Idaho County Free Press reported on the opening of a bid that was not put out for advertisement by the local county commission. The bid, to provide rock for a county road department stockpile near Woodland, came in at $138,000. No other media outlet covered it.

Not the TV or the radio. Not the Clearwater Progress. Not the Lewiston Tribune.


Andrew Ottoson

“The procurement laws indicate if it’s between $50,000 and $100,000, we can go to an informal bidding process…” the county clerk explained.

During the meeting when the informal bid was opened, the commissioners learned of the newspaper’s intent to report on the outcome, and they wisely voted to put it through a formal bid process, under which Idaho law presently requires local government to advertise certain actions in the local paper of record at local taxpayer expense.

After it was advertised, when the commissioners opened the formal bid, they found the cost of procuring the gravel – also paid by taxpayers – would be substantially lower.

The May 22 county commission minutes document a different bidder offered to stock the stockpile for 10 percent less: $123,800 total. To place the advertisement in the Idaho County Free Press, Idaho County paid less than $200 – and by taking an extra step, the Idaho County Commission saved local taxpayers $14,000.

They deserve all our thanks.

Public oversight is a dollars-and-cents issue, and a matter not just of a few thousand dollars saved by one board’s smart choice to pursue a competitive bid for one contract in one relatively small town in North Central Idaho. The cost of government has been found to have risen substantially when major newspapers have fallen in cities as large as Denver, Colo. and Cincinnati, Ohio. (See:

On one matter, we agree with Mr. Haunschild (guest opinion in this week’s issue): Taxpayers ought to reap the benefits of technological advancement. We are, after all, tech-savvy taxpayers ourselves. But what Idaho Freedom Foundation calls “subsidies” is reasonable compensation for performance of important services, and the cost to taxpayers for legal notice publication has been stable for years.

We disagree with the idea that the service we provide may be eliminated without consequence.

We’re proud of our work – the work that celebrates who we are as a community and the praiseworthy deeds being done year-in, year-out across our county – and also the work that helps local people and elected officials keep the lid on local government spending.

We can’t take credit for the culture that has made tax rates in Idaho some of the lowest in the nation, but we are proud of the role our newspaper – your newspaper – has played. Together with the people who have made this land our home, we’ve kept our government accountable for more than 132 years.

We, too, favor government cost-cutting, but dismantling the local newspaper business would make local government less accountable to the people, not more.

And that would end up costing local taxpayers a fortune in the long run.


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