Local

Whatcom government couldn’t give to nonprofits under charter-review proposal

A proposed amendment to Whatcom County's charter would prohibit funding for nonprofits, including the Bellingham Food Bank. Volunteer Troy Peterson, left, executive director Mike Cohen,  warehouse manager Matt Cooper and grocery rescue driver Melanie Swanson unload donations of food at the food bank in Bellingham on Jan. 8, 2015.
A proposed amendment to Whatcom County's charter would prohibit funding for nonprofits, including the Bellingham Food Bank. Volunteer Troy Peterson, left, executive director Mike Cohen, warehouse manager Matt Cooper and grocery rescue driver Melanie Swanson unload donations of food at the food bank in Bellingham on Jan. 8, 2015. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Proposed changes to Whatcom County government that may wind up on the November ballot include a prohibition on funding nonprofits.

This amendment to the county charter, now under consideration by the Charter Review Commission, is far from being decided. The 15 members of the commission haven’t even debated it yet; commissioner Yvonne Goldsmith only read her proposed amendment at the commission’s meeting on Monday, Feb. 9. It could be discussed as early as the next meeting, on Feb. 23.

As introduced, Goldsmith’s amendment would prohibit the council and executive from giving county money to a wide range of nonprofits, from charitable and educational to homeowners associations, religious groups and business organizations. If the county is only administering money coming from the state or federal government, or some other outside source, the prohibition wouldn’t apply.

The $1.4 million one-year contract between the county and the Opportunity Council, for example, wouldn’t be affected because the money comes from state government. But the $276,000 the county is giving to the Bellingham Food Bank in 2015-16 would not be allowed under Goldsmith’s proposal.

Food bank Executive Director Mike Cohen said it was “shocking” the commission would even consider such a ban on funding social services.

“It’s always been my understanding and belief that one of the roles of government is to be a safety net and help people who aren’t able to support themselves,” Cohen said.

Goldsmith, in an interview, said she was a “food bank proponent” and wasn’t targeting specific nonprofits. She said she intends to research how the county spends its money on nonprofits to prepare for the commission’s deliberations.

“What motivates me is that ... I don’t believe the county budget is a never-ending pot of gold,” Goldsmith said. “There are 15 good minds sitting around that table, and we’re all going to discuss it.”

Six other proposed charter amendments will be on the next meeting agenda:

• Term limits: County elected officials, except judges, could serve no more than two four-year terms or three two-year terms (introduced by commissioner Ken Bell).



• District-only voting: County council members would be elected by voters only within their district — south, northwest or northeast Whatcom (Joe Elenbaas).



• Initiatives and referendums: The signature requirement for county initiatives and referendums would change from 15 percent of the number of voters in the last county election, to either that or 8 percent in the last gubernatorial election (Todd Donovan).



• Protecting voters’ will: Council members would not be able to change a section of the charter that had received at least two-thirds voter approval (Ben Elenbaas).



• Ballot titles: Increase the maximum number of words in a county initiative or referendum title from 20 to 40 words (Joe Elenbaas).



• Preamble: Add to the charter’s introductory statement the words, “respecting the different cultures and traditions among our citizens” (Jon Mutchler).



The Charter Review Commission will meet twice monthly into July, with additional meetings scheduled as needed, to debate and approve charter amendment proposals. These will finally be approved or rejected by county voters in November.

The commission’s next meeting is 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 at the Lummi Administration Center, 2665 Kwina Road, on the Lummi Reservation.

  Comments