County delays jail vote, anticipating Bellingham’s rejection

Anticipating that Bellingham would reject a cost-sharing plan to pay for a new, $97 million jail to be built in Ferndale, the Whatcom County Council on Tuesday, June 9, voted unanimously to wait two weeks before deciding whether to put a jail construction bond on the November ballot.

In the same meeting, the council voted 6-1 to approve the cost-sharing agreement, even though some council members were confident it would not be approved by the Bellingham City Council. But the Bellingham council had signaled it would not bring the agreement to a vote until the County Council accepted it.

The next step could be to hammer out a compromise between city and county leaders. The Bellingham council has the jail agreement on its agenda for Monday, June 15, but they weren’t necessarily going to vote on it that night.

“We’re going to be presenting on Monday to our City Council an issues paper that has concerns that we have with the proposal, and a couple potential options for funding both the building of the jail and the services that would be provided,” Mayor Kelli Linville said on Tuesday, June 9, before the County Council meeting.

County Council member Barry Buchanan initiated the discussion Tuesday night of waiting two weeks before finalizing the package of jail resolutions. He said without Bellingham’s signature on the agreement — “and I’m hearing that probably is not going to happen,” Buchanan said — he didn’t think voters would approve the measure in November.

County Council Chairman Carl Weimer said his discussions with City Council members indicated they want the county to seek a mixed sales tax-property tax increase to fund the jail construction and operation. The measure that would appear on the November ballot, as it is now written, calls for a 0.2 percent countywide sales tax increase only.

The city would like to reserve some of the limited capacity for sales tax hikes for its own criminal justice needs, Mayor Linville has said.

County Council member Ken Mann, the most vocal critic of the jail plan on that body, was the lone vote against the jail agreement.

“I don’t want to send the message to the city of Bellingham that I like the plan,” Mann said.

In a third vote Tuesday night, County Council unanimously approved the formation of a task force to pursue better treatment options for people with mental illness and addictions.