It was a busy and productive year for Whatcom County government and I wanted to use the editorial space this month to provide a very brief summary of what we accomplished and remark on some of the highlights.
To begin, in January, we were able to put an end to the "closure days" that county government used to help our financial issues during the economic downturn. We returned to normal work schedules and normal days of business. It was very clear to me the closure days were not a good long-term strategy for the county, and we were able to find a way through the challenges to return to regular business.
In February of 2013, the state Legislature authorized the addition of a fourth superior court judge to commence in 2015. This has started us down the path of renovating our current courtroom space to accommodate this needed addition. Judges, staff and our designers are meeting frequently against a tight deadline to have this work completed in time for the seating of the new judge.
We made inroads on using new technology in 2013 to speed up our productivity and provide new and more current methods for county residents to access our services. We completed the county email migration to Microsoft Outlook as well as an upgrade to Office 2010; commenced electronic recording and online marriage licenses for the auditor's office; finished an upgrade of our J.D. Edwards financial system; recently implemented the sheriff's records management system, and in January plan to have onboard credit card processing on the Lummi Island Ferry.
In county parks, the Lake Whatcom reconveyance was approved by council in March, laying the ground work for the final transfer of those lands this year; new playground equipment was installed at Silver Lake Park; the resurfacing of the road to Plantation Rifle Range was finished and new docks were installed at Lake Samish, among other things. Of course, we implemented the Aquatic Invasive Species inspection program on Lake Whatcom and Lake Samish in conjunction with the City of Bellingham. This important program will help to ensure that we are proactive in not allowing the introduction of invasive species into our beautiful lakes.
Much of 2013 was all about siting and planning for a new jail and sheriff's office. The jail planner consultant contract with DLR was finalized in January. In June the property site request for proposal was issued, property proposals reviewed and a short list of sites whittled down to the one that was ultimately approved for purchase by council on Nov. 26. Prior to that, a traffic study was completed on the area of LaBounty road and its surroundings. The draft Environmental Impact Statement was commenced in September and the final one issued in November. Design of the new facility continues with many stakeholders, staff and our consultants working hard to match the needs for the new facility with the right size for the community.
Our planning and development services office had a big year in 2013. They completed Lean Academy training in March through sponsorship from the State Auditor's office - one of only five Washington counties to do so. This resulted in a reduction in residential permitting processing time from 30 days to 4.5 days on average. Many projects can now be approved at the counter.
There is much more efficiency in our processes. Staff is invigorated to continue to find ways to serve the public more thoroughly and easily.
In June, our public works office was notified that they had received the 2012 Outstanding Civil Engineering Award for improvements in the West Tributary of Silver Lake. The Civic Center building had a complete refurbish of its exterior walls and windows due to ongoing repairs for environmental damage. This resulted in "musical chairs" for the affected offices for most of the summer. Staff rallied to move as they were requested, often on very short lead times in order to accommodate the contractor's work schedule. The building looks wonderful now and is safer and much more energy efficient. Public works projects in 2013 are the completion of the Canyon Creek restoration project; repaving of a large section of Hannegan Road; Cottonwood neighborhood drainage improvements, including installation of a new outfall to Birch Bay and a stormwater treatment swale; improvements in the Coronado-Fremont area to treat stormwater, promote infiltration and reduce flooding in the Geneva neighborhood; and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approval to develop a system-wide improvement framework, which maintains eligibility for levees in the repair program. There were many more achievements in public works that I do not have space to mention.
There are other significant projects to note this year. The Port of Bellingham, City of Bellingham and your county government have forged a partnership to lease the building (owned by the port) for a unified Whatcom County Emergency Operations Center. This is the building that was used during the Olympics as an emergency center. Emergency management staff now working in the Civic Center building and City of Bellingham offices will be moving into this space early in 2014. There has been very generous support from community partners such as BP, Phillips 66 and the Whatcom Community Foundation. This is an exciting project!
Lastly, we are in process of finalizing contracts from all parties for Emergency Medical Services. This has taken years to complete and will result in an integrated system that serves all of Whatcom County. If ultimately finalized, a new board structure will oversee the work and keep these critical services viable to ensure that all county citizens can feel confident that they will be available whenever and wherever they are needed.
It has been a busy, challenging but very fruitful year for us. In closing I would like to thank everyone who has supported our county initiatives this year, or if you could not support something, I appreciated the great feedback and interaction with all. I feel blessed to work in this beautiful place with such wonderful staff and a great council as we move forward on a host of projects and goals in the New Year. We'll resume our monthly editorials in January and will continue to keep you up-to-date on our initiatives.
I wish everyone a great 2014 and hope that all have a wonderful holiday season with friends and family. On Tuesday, Dec. 3, Mayor Linville and I proclaimed "Giving Day" in Whatcom County. I would like to encourage everyone that, especially during this time of year, there are many among us who could use extra help, and there are many, many ways to give back in our community. I can personally attest that all those who give are enriched many times over by doing so.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws to provide to share updates about Whatcom County issues and projects. He invites citizens to contact him at 360-676-6717 or email@example.com.