By Steve Guntli
The county is moving forward with its jail program, while Bellingham has one last chance to decide if it wants to buy in.
At its regular meeting on July 7, Whatcom County Council approved a revised agreement, proposed by county executive Jack Louws, that would ensure the new county jail would be built with or without Bellingham’s participation. Bellingham City Council now has until August 14 to sign on to the previously designed jail, or the county will go forward with a pared-down facility.
If Bellingham agrees, the facility will be built as previously designed, with 521 beds for around $97 million. Without Bellingham, the facility would be cut back to about 400 beds for $75 million.
The revised plan was sent back out to the six small cities for approval. Blaine City Council voted 5–0 to approve the new plan at the July 13 regular meeting (councilmembers Charlie Hawkins and Bonnie Onyon were absent).
Mayor Harry Robinson stressed the importance of the new jail.
“It’s clear our present jail is inadequate,” he said. “We are housing people in conditions that are unbelievable. We’ve already approved this measure. If this jail isn’t approved by voters then it just goes away, and we’ll have to deal with the consequences.”
The current county jail facility has been plagued with overcrowding. The facility, which was designed to house around 200 people, currently holds about 300 inmates.
The revised plan was approved by a narrow margin in the county council, passing 4–3. Dissenting council members Carl Weimer, Ken Mann and Barry Buchanan expressed concerns that the measure wouldn’t pass when put up for a vote on November 3 without Bellingham’s inclusion.
Louws set an August 14 deadline so Bellingham’s decision would be reflected in the voter information pamphlets for the November 3 election.