Local Election

Volunteers sought to write pro/con statements for Whatcom jail, charter issues

Election worker Bob Cecile puts a ballot in the new drop-off box in the parking lot south of the Whatcom County Courthouse on Grand Avenue in Bellingham Tuesday morning, Nov. 2, 2010, while election worker Don Chadd gives voter Micah Gaston an " I voted" sticker.
Election worker Bob Cecile puts a ballot in the new drop-off box in the parking lot south of the Whatcom County Courthouse on Grand Avenue in Bellingham Tuesday morning, Nov. 2, 2010, while election worker Don Chadd gives voter Micah Gaston an " I voted" sticker. The Bellingham Herald

Whatcom County officials are looking for people to write the book on this fall’s elections.

It’s going to be a long book, too.

The November ballot will not only be loaded with local races — county and city offices; school and fire districts; park, hospital and cemetery boards — it will have about a dozen up-or-down votes on items such as a tax increase to build a new jail.

Voters will be asked to consider as many as 10 amendments to the county charter, which is effectively the county government’s constitution. The county seeks volunteers to write separate statements for and against the jail tax and each of the charter amendments. The statements, no longer than 200 words, will appear in the fall voters guide.

The jail measure would raise the sales tax countywide by 0.2 percent to pay for construction and operation of a new jail to be built in Ferndale. The tax would add 20 cents to the cost of a $100 purchase. County officials say it would be enough to pay for a $97 million, 521-bed jail or a smaller jail, if Bellingham decides not to contribute its share of the tax revenue.

The charter amendments include eight put forward by the Charter Review Commission, which met over the past six months to develop its charter proposals. The County Council, in response to the mostly conservative commission’s work, has advanced its own charter amendment to the ballot — a proposal that would increase the number of county districts from three to five and reconfigure where council members come from.

The commission put district-only voting on the November ballot, so that council members would no longer be elected on countywide ballots, but rejected a redistricting proposal essentially the same as what the council put on the ballot at its July 7 meeting.

Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, July 21, about a 10th charter amendment that would require at least 10 “yes” votes on the 15-member commission for it to place charter amendments on the ballot. This amendment already has a leg up to go onto the ballot; three County Council members at the July 7 meeting said they supported the requirement.

The complete list of charter amendments is at whatcomcounty.us/1553/Proposed-Amendments.

To apply for a pro or con committee, contact the County Council office by 4:30 p.m. Monday, July 20, at 360-676-6690 or council@co.whatcom.wa.us. Provide your name, which committee you are volunteering for, and your phone number and email address.

Voters are encouraged to read what these volunteers write.

“It’s going to be a long ballot,” said Diana Bradrick, Whatcom County chief deputy auditor. “It could be overwhelming. It’s a lot of issues and a lot of amendments, and I think it will help people if they read the voters guide.”

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog and follow him on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.

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