Whatcom County Charter Amendment 7 would limit council, hurt community

Every ten years the Whatcom County Charter Review Commission is convened to consider amendments to Whatcom County’s Charter, which essentially acts as our county constitution.

On Feb. 9, Amendment 7 was proposed by Commissioner Yvonne Goldsmith. The amendment would prohibit future administrations and County Councils from distributing “county funds via grants, or expenditures, to charitable, educational, civic, homeowners, neighborhood, arts, trade, business, religious, or scientific non-profit organizations.”

This amendment is misguided and flawed for several reasons.

We believe it is smart business for Whatcom County to partner with organizations that are experts in their field and do great work for our community. Organizations that receive county support for critical and essential services are excellent stewards of taxpayer dollars and leverage these dollars with donations from individuals, foundations, businesses and other units of government like city, state or federal government. This provides widespread benefits for our community. In 2015 county funding will help support vital programs managed by organizations like the Bellingham Food Bank, Whatcom Council on Aging, Opportunity Council and the Whatcom Humane Society to meet community needs. Specifically, the funds from Whatcom County help the Bellingham Food Bank receive, store and redistribute more than 2 million pounds of food to 20 hunger relief programs, in Blaine, Ferndale, Nooksack, Lynden, Deming and other areas of the county. County funds also help the Whatcom Humane Society respond to 4,000 animal control calls, support Opportunity Council services and management of the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center in Kendall, and help Whatcom Council on Aging to provide more than 300 homebound seniors with critical nutrition through the Meals on Wheels program. County funds also support counseling and case management services for Interfaith Community Health Center’s behavioral health program.

If the proposed Amendment 7 moves forward, these and other vital and beneficial activities will be negatively impacted.

In addition to eliminating services that support Whatcom County residents, this amendment would eliminate any future options for the county to partner with other “like” organizations to meet new or changing needs. Our “representative government” will be limited to addressing all future community needs without the help of “charitable, educational, civic, homeowners, neighborhood, arts, trade, business, religious or scientific non-profit organizations.” Why would the Charter Review Commission want to limit future County Councils and administrations from being able to explore any and all options to innovatively — and efficiently — tackle our county’s most pressing needs?

Maybe even more important than the shortsighted impact of this amendment is the statement the amendment makes and represents. We believe taking care of our community is our collective responsibility. It should be shared by individuals, businesses, communities of faith and government. Whatcom County should not be limited to heed this calling. We believe one of government’s highest purposes is to protect and support the vulnerable. And the most effective way to do this is through creative partnerships with a variety of community organizations.

If you agree with our sentiments, please let the Charter Review Commission know. If you agree with what’s proposed in Amendment 7, please do the same. We are confident that most citizens don’t want to limit government in this way.