The latest news from July Whatcom County Council meetings.
EMS levy rate of 29.5 cents on November 8 ballot
In its July 26 meeting, Whatcom County Council voted 5-1, with councilmember Ben Elenbaas opposed and councilmember Tyler Byrd absent, to submit a proposition to Whatcom County qualified voters renewing the levy of a regular property tax at a rate of 29.5 cents or less per $1,000 assessed valuation for emergency medical services (EMS) on the November 8 ballot.
The current rate of the levy is 19.9 cents per $1,000.
Council amended an original request for the renewal of the rate set from 29.5 to 19.9, which was approved during its July 12 meeting. The rate was then increased, with amendments from councilmember Kaylee Galloway, to account for adjustments for inflation and rising costs. Some members of the council thought the increase was too much for Whatcom County voters.
“I’m still not going to support this, and it’s because I want it to pass,” Elenbaas said. “And I don’t think that a 50 percent tax increase is going to pass.”
Elenbaas said he didn’t think the county was upholding its expectation of diversity, equity and inclusion when it comes to religious beliefs in county fire stations, referring to vaccination exemptions.
“I believe this EMS levy will serve the greater good, because we understand that if it fails at the ballot, it’s going to have a disproportionate negative impact on our rural community members,” Galloway said during the meeting. “That means our folks who live in the unincorporated areas and the small cities of Whatcom County are going to feel the negative impact of not having a countywide EMS system.”
The countywide EMS system serves all of Whatcom County, including Point Roberts, Blaine, Ferndale, Bellingham, Lynden, Everson, Nooksack and Sumas.
“This is a tough one because everybody knows that we need EMS services in our community, and nobody wants to see this levy fail,” said councilmember Kathy Kershner. “At the same time, we are putting it at risk by asking voters to approve a 50 percent increase on their taxes for EMS.”
The July 26 meeting was the deadline for council to get the levy on the ballot.
Birch Point flooding study
Council authorized Tetra Tech, Inc., a California-based consulting and engineering firm, to conduct a Birch Point Subwatershed Drainage Study for $74,793.
The contract will provide hydrologic and hydraulic analysis as well as preliminary sizing for conceptual design options to mitigate flooding in residential areas impacted by drainage from Birch Point uplands to Birch Bay, according to the memorandum. Funding will come out of Birch Bay Watershed and Aquatic Resources Management (BBWARM) district’s budget.
Birch Bay Drive and Harborview Road repaving
Council authorized the county to enter into a contract with Granite Construction Company to complete a Birch Bay Drive and Harborview Road pavement repair project in the amount of $274,910.
Transition to zero-emissions transportation
Council passed a resolution 4-2, with Elenbaas and Kershner opposed and Byrd absent, that it will support policy decisions to reduce or eliminate emission in its public transportation system. According to the resolution, council will support the community’s transition to electric vehicles and increase access to alternative and active modes of transportation.
Priorities for 2025 comprehensive plan
Council is working to establish its 2025 comprehensive plan priorities that have yet to be approved. The priorities include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, engaging with Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe, promoting protection and restoration of health habitats for fish and wildlife, collaboratively working toward economic security and affordable housing, building resistance to climate change in forests, and supporting local agriculture and the food economy.
County property transferred to Opportunity Council at no cost
Council voted 4-3, with councilmembers Byrd, Elenbaas and Kershner opposed, to transfer a county building at 1000 N. Forest Street to the Opportunity Council at no cost.
The Opportunity Council is a nonprofit serving homeless and low-income families and individuals, according to its website. It provides housing, rental and energy assistance among other services.
Matthew Santos appointed to WCLS board of trustees
Council confirmed county executive Satpal Sidhu’s appointment of Blaine resident Matthew Santos to the Whatcom County Library System board of trustees’ district 5 seat.
Santos is the executive director of admissions and advising at Bellingham Technical College, according to the recommendation letter. He is a PhD candidate at Oregon State University and father of two.
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