Over the past 18 years our elected leaders have spent millions on engineering, design, structural and other design professionals to plan for a replacement jail for Whatcom County. We have performed and paid for numerous criminal justice feasibility studies and purchased land. The data and information contained in these studies throughout the past 18 years consistently concluded that we have an overwhelming need to replace the existing Whatcom County main jail with a new, humane, efficient, safe and modern facility.
The current jail is literally falling down, sewage pipes are bursting, and electrical security systems are failing. Our jail is grossly overcrowded and poses a life-safety hazard for jail staff and inmates. Just in the past year we spent over $3 million to repair and replace the electrical wiring and systems that secure the facility, only to have cell doors pop open for no reason or intent. We cannot continue to throw hard-earned tax dollars at this failed facility. The current failed jail does not reflect our community standards for those community members who are incarcerated and our law enforcement officers who choose to work there.
We need at least one member of the County Council who will champion the new jail and keep it moving forward. If we sideline this project, as we have done for the last 18 years, our sales tax limits for funding a replacement jail may not be enough. Even with the voter approval for funding for the replacement jail this November, the new jail will not be available to serve our public safety needs until 2019 — four years from now.
In 2012-13 I chaired the Public Safety Now committee and for several years worked closely with Sheriff Bill Elfo on the need for a replacement jail. In addition, my experience on the Bellingham City Council helps me understand what is necessary to get the replacement jail built; and to understand the current urgency to do it now rather than later, after two decades of procrastination. With your vote and support I will make it my first priority as a member of the County Council to replace our essential jail facility with a safe and humane new jail.
Whatcom County’s mental health needs must also be met and mental health programming with jail alternatives and prevention is and should be a high priority. Whatcom County currently spends over $4 million annually for existing mental health behavioral programs. I am confident we can replace the failing jail and develop more mental health alternatives at the same time. One of the main ways communities are defined is by their humanity towards others through their public safety faculties.
A diversity of viewpoint is needed on the current County Council. In my experience, good government requires many points of view be heard. There are many other critical issues facing Whatcom County that will need a thorough debate and discussion including, but not limited to, agriculture, updating the county comprehensive plan, river and flood priorities and community growth issues. With your help and support I will continue to work to keep Whatcom County a great place to live, raise a family and work.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is one of a series of commentaries from candidates in the Aug. 4 primary election. Bruce Ayers is a candidate in the non-partisan election for a 4-year term for Whatcom County Council District 1, Position B. District 1 includes south Bellingham and south Whatcom County. Incumbent Pete Kremen is not seeking re-election.