In my first five months as Whatcom County Executive I've met and listened to many people - staff, individual constituents, board members and others from service clubs, charities and special interest groups. I've toured nearly every county department and facility; I've been to cities, Lummi Island and many areas of unincorporated Whatcom County.
Our county is diverse economically, socially, politically and geographically. We have a myriad of major issues pressing for solutions, and I'm enjoying the challenge of bringing people together to find common ground that allows us to move closer to resolution.
We have had some accomplishments in the first five months. Some are minor - like revitalizing the senior staff meetings that include departmental updates. Some are large - including the commitment between Bellingham and Whatcom County to be united in the delivery of EMS/ALS ambulance service. Also, the sheriff and I were granted the authority to proceed with the hiring of a jail planner and to undertake a property search for a new correctional complex.
Other major accomplishments include proceeding with the Birch Bay Drive and pedestrian project. This project will be both environmentally and economically beneficial for the residents of Birch Bay, by increasing pedestrian flow while improving storm water runoff and beach erosion. I've worked hard to build a foundation of trust and mutual respect with the County Council. They recently made a decision on moving forward with the South Fork Park plan conception. It wasn't an easy decision, and I participated by holding a "listening session" with concerned citizens and providing that input to the council. They made their decision on the Lake Whatcom lands reconvenyance just recently. These two projects follow years of research, public meetings and joint staff time in our county and with other agencies.
Council is now moving ahead to meet the deadline on the Growth Management Hearings Board work. It's imperative that we get into compliance, so that permitting and funding challenges, both for the private and public sectors, are resolved. This however, has put a short-term halt on my desire to complete a "code scrub" of our county planning and development services code. We are fully engaged in compliance issues, and are not able to start new projects until we finalize others.
We have started the budget process for 2013-2014. As with most public agencies, our expenses are outpacing our modest revenue gains, making the next budget challenging, but not impossible. I'm working on system efficiencies that will close some of the budget gap, including a complete review of our vehicle use and replacement plan. I'm also working with staff on technology enhancements that will ultimately make our county more customer responsive and labor efficient. Couple these cost-saving measures with others developed by our department heads and other elected officials and we will be able to provide the core services we desire.
I've had the pleasure of attending the Whatcom County Middle School Math Championship Awards, the ribbon cutting for the Chinese art exhibit at the Allied Arts Center, and Drug Court graduation. I've been in parades, attended charity auctions and had the pleasure of meeting many fine people in Whatcom County.
A couple of weeks ago, a document came across my desk that was previously the work of my father. It was a contract for the installation and maintenance of the Grandview Road rail crossing. There was a bill attached to it, because of our responsibility to fix damage caused by vehicle traffic. I paused when I saw his name, and felt a touch of nostalgia. I'm guided by his wisdom and have many memories of his tenure as county executive. With the support of my wife, Cindy, and my family and friends, I have settled into the office at the courthouse, and have begun to normalize my work routines. I'm eager to steer the county's work on your behalf.
My staff and I are here to serve you, as that is our priority. Please use our website for current news and events, whatcomcounty.us.
Jack Louws was elected Whatcom County Executive Nov. 8, 2011.