I thought it would be interesting for the public to have a mid-year review of the projects and the financial status of your county government. We are working on several fronts, including developing our next biennial budget, which goes to council approximately Oct. 17 for its review, potential modifications and adoption in November.
The year 2014 has been very busy for your Public Works Department. I'm pleased that the Portal Way and Lynden/Birch Bay Drive signalization project is substantially completed. Along with laying down many miles of chip sealing we are reconstructing the Potter Road Bridge in Van Zandt. We are in the midst of designing the Birch Bay berm project, and council just approved a project at I-5 and Slater Road to provide interim relief to traffic congestion by installing three mini-roundabouts. The staff at public works is gearing up for several major improvement projects for our road infrastructure in the next few years!
I'm proud that our health department was recently given the "Local Health Department of the Year" award by the National Association of County and City Health Officials. The award recognizes and honors the outstanding accomplishments of local health departments for their innovation, creativity and positive impact on their community. Whatcom County Health Department was chosen as the winner for the medium category (health departments serving populations from 50,000 to 499,999) for its work to end local veterans' homelessness through a commitment of funding and an expansion of veterans' programs and services. Our health team is not satisfied with just this accomplishment, as they have been instrumental in the development of a new mental health court that should be operational at the first of the year. The mental health court will be beneficial for Whatcom County by providing active oversight and support for those in need. This type of program has proven to reduce recidivism and provide solutions for people with mental illness who are now often jailed for misdemeanor offenses.
Planning and Development Services has experienced a slight surge in single family residence permits, and is generally busier than the past few years. We are experiencing more code enforcement issues than normal, and we are in the process of adding staff to augment our capabilities to ensure that violations are fairly and equitably dealt with.
I'm pleased construction is proceeding smoothly in the courthouse for a new courtroom and chambers for the fourth Superior Court judge. We anticipate this construction will be complete and a new judge will be on the bench in early 2015. It is a difficult project to manage due to our obligation to have the courthouse operations fully functioning during the day, and quiet after 10 p.m. so that juvenile detention residents on the sixth floor floor can get a good night's sleep. This leaves only a few hours in the evening and on weekends to get the heavy, noisy construction work completed.
The purchase of the State Street building is complete, and I will be engaging council in September to finalize plans for the staff moves needed to fully utilize this facility. The environmental cleanup of the associated parking lot will be complete this year, and the building infrastructure update will be scheduled as soon as final decisions are approved by council.
The new county jail project is progressing and we are engaging all cities on a potential, long-term inter-local agreement that will provide a framework for funding construction and ongoing operations. I will be asking for council approval in September for an extension of the contract with DLR Group to provide design and engineering services so that we can formally apply to the City of Ferndale for development and construction permit approvals. I expect that the county will be asking voters for approval of a sales tax measure next year to pay for the facility as outlined in the interlocal agreements currently being developed.
The July 1 transition of Medic One, which transferred one ambulance unit from Bellingham Fire to Fire District 7, proved successful. This was made possible through the professional efforts of Bellingham Fire and Fire District 7. I want to thank everyone involved for helping to make this a seamless transition. We are indeed blessed to have committed and well-trained paramedics in our county.
The county, City of Bellingham, and the port celebrated, with our corporate partners BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66, the grand opening of the new Whatcom Unified Emergency Coordination Center. I am pleased that we have this great facility standing ready in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. Being prepared to respond without delay is paramount in providing quality management in an emergency event or disaster. Former New York City Mayor Rudolf Giuliani said, "The public will forgive you if the worst happens and you've prepared, but they will not forgive your lack of preparedness." I believe Whatcom County is being very proactive in our efforts to be prepared.
We continue to forge ahead on many paths in county government as we balance public needs with fiscal ability and resources. We are hoping that the economy will bounce back strongly and we will see increasing revenue in our existing revenue sources. However, thus far, it appears that progress is slow and steady. Interest rates are flat; construction starts are better but not back to pre-recession levels; and sales tax revenue, while better, is also not where we would like it to be. Of course, we have continued demands for the limited funds we do have.
As we build our budget, we will carefully weigh our longer term goals. You will see the result of that when the new budget is ready for council review. There is always a public hearing before the budget is adopted that is held at a November council meeting. Watch the county website (http://www.whatcomcounty.us/) for details if you are interested. As always, feel free to give me a call or drop me an email on any county issue if you have questions or concerns.
It's always great to hear from citizens and I encourage you to learn about what your county government does for our community.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.