County Council tables EMS scale-back for further discussion

Published on Wed, Jul 10, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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In the weeks since Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws put forth a recommendation to consolidate EMS services in the county and halt county funding for the fire district’s dispatch service, fire agencies countywide have repeatedly told him they disagree with his proposal.

At a Whatcom County Council finance and administrative service committee meeting July 9, Louws shared with the council the opposition he’s received to his proposal, presented the fire district’s proposed alternative to help cover their budget, and asked for the council’s advice on how to proceed.

“I recommended that we reduce the service down to three Bellingham units and one Ferndale unit,” Louws said. “Most, if not all, of the fire agencies throughout Whatcom County are encouraging us not to do that and to continue services as is, with the understanding that they’re recommending that the county council put on the ballot an increase of the sales tax of one-tenth of 1 percent.”

Based on Louws’ presentation, the council remanded the proposal, with the intention of furthering the discussion as a special committee of the whole on Monday, July 22.

“We need to work together with the council and the administration to put a program together,” Louws said. “We’re at that critical juncture where I need their direction, because I don’t want to pursue and waste a bunch of time on efforts they wouldn’t support.”

At its regular council meeting on July 9, Whatcom County Council shot down a three-year contract with insurance consulting firm Kibble & Prentice, instead approving only the first year of the contract in the amount of $45,000 for services rendered through 2014. The county has employed Kibble & Prentice for a number of years as a staff benefits consultant. Council member Barbara Brenner put forth the amendment to the motion.

“I was unimpressed with the job they did explaining the self-insured medical process to county staff,” she said.

Despite Louws’ recommendation to approve the three-year contract, council member Ken Mann agreed with Brenner’s proposed amendment.

“Keeping them on their toes isn’t a bad message to send,” Mann said. Brenner’s amendment passed 4–3, and the amended motion passed 7–0.

The council unanimously passed all eight items on the consent agenda, including an amendment adding $38,000 to the contract between Whatcom County and jail planner DLR Group for supplemental services required to complete the analysis of the preferred jail site on LaBounty Road in Ferndale. The funds cover a geotechnical analysis of the site that will determine, among other things, whether two nearby underground storage tanks are leaking liquids and affecting groundwater. The amendment brings the total contract amount to $491,902 for the preliminary study of the property.

Also approved were the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Guild collective bargaining agreement, and authorization to fund repairs of a 1998 Freightliner basket truck in the amount of $41,423. The county public works department uses the truck for county road projects, and funds will come from the public works repair budget.

An ordinance repealing the 1987 Birch Bay-Blaine Subarea Plan and amending provisions to the Whatcom County comprehensive plan relating to subarea plans was forwarded for concurrent review. Mann explained afterwards that changes to the county comprehensive plan can only happen at the same time as all the other subarea plans in the county.

“There’s a lot of interplay between the subarea plans, so they have to be considered together,” he said. “This step was somewhat of a formality.”