Politics Blog

Ferndale mayor candidate Cathy Watson Q&A

Five people are facing off in the Aug. 4 primary election to become the next mayor of Ferndale. The top two vote-getters will move on to the Nov. 3 general election.

Ferndale mayor is a nonpartisan office with four-year terms. The mayor makes 90 percent of the average salary for mayors in similarly sized Washington cities, and will earn $1,690 per month in 2016. The position is part time.

The Bellingham Herald asked the candidates a series of questions about their qualifications and key issues in the city. Responses below are verbatim as submitted. Other candidates’ responses are available at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog.

Candidate: Cathy Watson, 55


B.A. Journalism

M.S. Meteorology

Virginia Middle School Teaching Certificate

Association of Washington Cities Certificate of Municipal Leadership

Work Experience:


U.S. Coast Guard Electronics Technician (four years active, three years reserves)

U.S. Navy Reserves Aerographers Mate (two years)


Meteorologist - Six years scientific programming experience analyzing meteorological data from ground-based sensors, research aircraft, the space shuttle, and various satellites to better understand the creation and transport of global atmospheric pollution. Created an interactive software package to enable the first real-time analysis of atmospheric turbulence data aboard a NASA research aircraft.

Public Affairs Officer - Eight years experience translating NASA aeronautics, earth, and space research into plain English for the public and the media. Developed Web sites, written features, animation, and videos to illustrate the importance of NASA research. Managed a five-member design/editorial team responsible for maintaining and developing content for NASA's Human Spaceflight Web site and the NASA Johnson Space Center public Web site. Provided live commentary on NASA TV from the Houston Mission Control Center during space shuttle missions andInternational Space Station expeditions, explaining complex technical terms, in every-day language, to viewers watching real-time space activities unfold before them. Lead Public Affairs Officer/NASA TV commentator for the STS-107 (Columbia) mission.

Aerospace Engineer – Three years experience managing space shuttle and International Space Station experiment teams to help researchers determine how

living in space for long periods of time affected astronauts physically and mentally. Ensured all experiment requirements were accomplished on schedule, withinincreasingly tight budget constraints. Led the International Space Station Expedition 12 Human Life Sciences Team, ensuring every experiment achieved the researcher’s goals while staying on schedule and on budget. Responsible for more than $1 million in annual budgets.

Previous Public Offices Held: Ferndale City Council since January 2012.

Ferndale Mayor Pro Tempore since January 2014

Chair, Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee Member, Public Works Committee Council Liaison to Ferndale Arts Commission and Ferndale Service Cooperative Board

Endorsements: Because the Mayor of Ferndale is a non-partisan position, I haven’t sought the endorsement of any political party.

Why are you running for Ferndale mayor?

I’m running for Mayor because I have a deep love for Ferndale, having found a home in our amazing community after living in eight states in 30 years. My experiences in other cities have shown me what works and what doesn’t, and helped me form a vision of what our city can be if we all work together. I want to help our residents, local businesses, City staff and Council build a thriving, prosperous community we’re all proud to call home.

I also want to focus on bringing more family-wage jobs to Ferndale. As Mayor, I will work with the WWU Small Business Development Council and our local Chamber of Commerce to market our city to new businesses trying to find their first brick and mortar location and existing businesses looking to relocate.

As the City’s Executive, the Mayor also sets both short and long-term priorities. Should the City focus on building new roads this year or spend two years fixing the roads we have? Should the City create incentives to help revitalize older neighborhoods and create affordable housing for seniors and first-time homebuyers? If yes, how? What new community projects do we take on (Star Park? Pool/Recreation Center?) and how do we pay for them? These are the questions I want to help Council and our residents answer by providing strong leadership and a vision of what Ferndale can be now and in the future.

Have you attended any Ferndale City Council or other official meetings in the last year? If so, which ones?

As a Councilmember, I attend all Ferndale City Council meetings, as well as all City Council Committee meetings. I attend the monthly Board meetings of the Ferndale Arts Commission and the Ferndale Service Cooperative as their Council liaison. I am also the Council liaison to the Ferndale Employee Wellness Committee, which meets monthly.

I attend quarterly meetings with elected officials and Staff from the County and other incorporated cities to plan for the required 2016 update of our comprehensive plans, a requirement of the State Growth Management Act. I also attend the Phillips 66 quarterly Leadership Breakfast with other City, County and State elected officials and their staff.

In the last year, I have met with the new YMCA Director to discuss improving their offerings in Ferndale and with the Opportunity Council to seek support in staffing the Ferndale Community Resource Center. I attended the annual conference of the Association of Washington cities in June to take training classes and network with elected officials and staff from other Washington cities and State agencies.

I’m also a member of the Ferndale School District’s Graduation Advisory Committee and we meet every two months to work on solutions to improve Ferndale’s graduation rate. I also attended quarterly meetings of the District’s STEP (Services, Training, Education and Policy) Project, which is seeking to improve student access to community support services and reduce rates of interpersonal violence. Finally, I attend the monthly Ferndale Chamber of Commerce luncheons.

What do you think of the plan to ask voters to approve a 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value property tax for a Metropolitan Park District?

I do not support the formation of a Metropolitan Parks District because I don’t think creating another permanent taxing district is the best way to fund better parks and outdoor amenities in Ferndale. Sadly, there are too many people in Ferndale who literally cannot afford a $0.50 per $1000 increase in their property taxes.

To pay for specific parks-related amenities, I would prefer the City go to voters with a levy request for each project, which residents can either approve or disapprove on a case-by-case basis. That way, when a project is paid for the associated property tax increase goes away.

I also worry the proposed parks district will compete for future funding with the Ferndale School District, and perhaps Fire District 7. Initially, the Parks Board pushed to create a district bounded by the Ferndale School District, but Council voted twice in 2014 to create a smaller district using City boundaries. I fought hard against the larger district because I believed (and still do) that it would compete with the school district for funds. The separately elected board of the larger parks district would have the power to set the tax rate at $0.75 per $1000 of assessed value, a rate that would last forever. My concern was that if people were paying an additional $200 or more in annual property taxes for parks, they wouldn’t have enough money in their budget to take on additional taxes for a school technology levy or to build a much-needed modern high school. The majority of Council agreed that the smaller district was the best option of the two, though I personally think individual project-related levies are the overall best option.

What have you accomplished in Ferndale?

I was (and still am) an unfailing proponent of the new Ferndale Public Library. Before the library was built, I was often the lone voice on Council fighting for funding and support through numerous difficult discussions and votes. I’m now focused on bringing to the library more Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) activities, as well as expanding their robotics training options.

As Council Liaison to the Ferndale Arts Commission, I wrote a grant request to the Washington Arts Commission, which resulted in a $1000 award to fund expanded entertainment options at the 2014 Art in the Park, increasing attendance 46% from 2013. I wrote a $2500 grant request for this year’s event, but won't know if we've been awarded anything until late July.

This spring, my grant request to the Whatcom Community Foundation resulted in a $5000 award to create the first Summer Youth Theater Camp in Ferndale. Forty-five children are taking part in the free, three-week camp and they will perform their rendition of Honk!, a musical based on the ugly duckling story, at 7 p.m. on July 16, 17 and 18, and 2 p.m. July 18 at the Ferndale High School Performing Arts Center.

In 2014, I helped form the Ferndale Auxiliary Communications Service, a group of amateur radio operators who provide communications support to the Ferndale Emergency Operations Center located in our police station, as well as the police communications van.

I have been a strong advocate for performing annual maintenance on the City’s infrastructure – buildings, roads, sewers, etc. This year, for the first time, all the City’s buildings were professionally inspected so we could finally begin prioritizing the maintenance budget and discussing which buildings are necessary/salvageable and which are not.

A plan to levy a penny gas tax in Ferndale to pay for roads and infrastructure failed at the polls last year. How should Ferndale pay for road improvements?

The 2012 voter-approved Transportation Benefit District provides more than $360,000 a year for street maintenance. Though it has enabled the City to be more competitive for State and Federal grants, without those grants, none of our recent large-scale street improvements would have been possible. In the last ten years, Ferndale has received $13.9 million in State and Federal money: $1.4 million in low-interest loans/grants from the State Public Works Trust Fund, $5.8 million in additional State grants, and $6.7 million in Federal grants.

The Legislature’s 2015-17 transportation operations and capital budget, however, is 17% less than the 2013-15 budget. In 2014, the Legislature also used a large portion of the Public Works Trust Fund to shore up education funding and in the 2015-17 budget the trust fund is effectively gone, leaving cities and counties without a much-needed funding source for infrastructure projects. The latest transportation package has only one project in Ferndale (the Slater Road roundabouts), scheduled for 2019-20. Though the project is important to the County as a whole, its $21 million price tag means there will be little State funding available for any future large-scale projects in Ferndale (e.g., the Thornton Road Connector to Second Avenue). Only time will tell if Ferndale will see any benefit from the increased gas tax.

Bottom line: City Staff will continue to apply for any and every program that’s still available, making the best use of our taxpayers’ money as matching funds. Thank you again to the voters of Ferndale for approving the Transportation Benefit District. Those funds, and the voter commitment that came with them, have taken Ferndale to the head of the grants line more than once.

What does the city of Ferndale need to tackle in the next four years?

We need to bring more family-wage jobs to Ferndale. Too many people can no longer afford to buy a home where they grew up because the job they have doesn’t pay enough and there aren’t enough family-wage jobs available. Ferndale has a lot to offer, but we need to actively market our area to entrepreneurs starting new businesses and existing businesses looking to relocate.

Ferndale will continue to grow, especially around the Main St./I-5 interchange. The City is already planning for that growth by hiring an engineering firm to design the most efficient intersections (i.e., signals or roundabouts) for the Main St. corridor from I-5 to Fourth Ave. Because we are more affordable than Bellingham, we will also see more growth in housing. We are already planning for where these people will live and ensuring we will have adequate water and sewer capacity to serve them.

We also need a strong, reliable revenue source to fix/replace our aging infrastructure and build the amenities people say they want in a 21st century city.

Unfortunately, State and Federal infrastructure spending continues to decline. Since the Washington revenue system relies heavily on sales tax, we’ll keep trying to lure a large retail establishment to Ferndale, hoping they’ll provide more in tax revenue than they’ll cost us in road/traffic improvements.

Like many small cities, Ferndale also needs to revitalize our historic downtown area, much of which is in the flood plain. As buildable land becomes harder to obtain, the City must work with State and Federal regulators to remove land from the flood plain, perhaps through programs like the proposed Nooksack Delta restoration project.

My Web site is www.cathywatson.us