County executive Satpal Sidhu gave his first State of the County address at the April 6 Whatcom County Council meeting, outlining the tumultuous year since he took office in January 2020 and providing a hopeful outlook into the future.
In 2020, Sidhu recounted everything from the Super Bowl floods last February that caused more than $4 million of damage to Nooksack and Sumas properties, to declaring a local emergency in response to the pandemic and ending the year with the Custer train derailment.
“I have found, in this first year of learning that the job is not without challenges and frustrations, but I remain positive about our collective future,” Sidhu said.
Sidhu promised to continue to advocate for the U.S./Canada border to reopen for Point Roberts residents. He said he would like to see the border open this summer and hopefully in time for the Peace Arch centennial in September.
“I would like to recognize the special sacrifices made by some of our community members,” Sidhu said. “I want to commend the residents of Point Roberts for the resilience and patience they have shown during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Sidhu spoke about how the county is working to address the lack of affordable housing. The county executive said he is working with city governments to use funds from the Economic Development Initiative program, 1406 and 1590 to create more housing. The county is also working to develop more land for both homes and prospective businesses.
Sidhu commended the local government for its quick response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including Whatcom County Sheriff’s Emergency Management Department organizing Whatcom Unified Command, the new leadership of Whatcom County Health Department director Erika Lautenbach, and $450,000 of CARES Act money given to 150 families for housing assistance and $500,000 given to housing and behavioral healthcare
American Rescue Plan Act
In all, Sidhu said $150 million is slated to be given to county government agencies, tribes, schools, Whatcom Transportation Authority and childcare services. About $45 million should be given to the county government over the next three years, Sidhu said.
The auditor’s office experienced new highs of voter turnout. Over 88 percent of registered voters voted in the 2020 elections, which is 25,000 more people than ever before.
The Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Commission started in Whatcom County, and will be funded for two years. Sidhu said he hopes to introduce an interlocal agreement between the county and municipalities in the near future.
Whatcom County Park and Recreation Department
The Whatcom County Park and Recreation department recorded a 22 percent increase in usage with 341,000 additional people using the parks in 2020, compared to 2019. Over 1,546,000 people used county parks in 2020.
Sidhu said that by the end of 2020, the general fund cash balance was higher than first projected for the 2020 budget, ending at $14,904,554. The Covid-19 fund started last March with a $4 million Economic Development Investment program loan, and is now nearing $12 million. CARES Act money provided $26 million to the county and its municipalities to help pay for assistance such as $10 million in public health response, $5 million to small businesses and $2.6 million to help school districts with remote teaching.
For the full State of the County address, visit whatcomcounty.us.