Op-Ed

Here’s how Bellingham will spend tax dollars

Floyd Elgin of Northwest Edison installs a new LED street light at the intersection of Broadway and Dupont streets in Bellingham. Bellingham changed 3,600 streetlights to brighter, energy-saving LEDs in 2015.
Floyd Elgin of Northwest Edison installs a new LED street light at the intersection of Broadway and Dupont streets in Bellingham. Bellingham changed 3,600 streetlights to brighter, energy-saving LEDs in 2015. pdwyer@bellinghamherald.com

When I think of the city of Bellingham, I believe we have a lot to be proud of. We keep our community safe with our police and fire services and by providing clean drinking water and public transportation systems. We offer amazing parks and trails, library services, the Whatcom Museum and the Mount Baker Theatre. We develop plans for the current needs of our neighborhoods and for the future growth of our community.

The city’s budget ensures that we can provide these important services. On Wednesday, Oct. 5, I will be presenting my 2017-2018 biennial budget recommendations to Bellingham City Council. This budget proposes that we continue our great services to the community and provide key strategic investments to position us for the future. Our community is supportive of local government, and this budget provides services that are above and beyond the basics as we continue to recover from the Great Recession.

Salaries and benefits account for more than 70 percent of our general fund expenses, and our employees are also our greatest asset.

My No. 1 priority is public safety. One of the biggest investments in this proposal is to add two additional police officers each year of the biennium. We are committed to a community policing model that will allow our officers to spend more time preventing crime and allow them to interact more with the community.

We are continuing to invest in many diverse new and ongoing programs over the next two years:

Public safety: Besides adding police officers, we are investing in community paramedicine, such as our community paramedic; neighborhood police officers; and camp clean ups in our woods and parks.

Economy: We are investing in a retail strategy for downtown to keep our storefronts occupied, as well as urban village implementation and incentive programs for growing our businesses. Our work on the waterfront will support high-paying jobs and preserve industrial uses.

Environment: I’m excited to support all of the Energy Year efforts going on in Bellingham, including competing in the $5 million Georgetown Energy Prize, installing LED streetlights throughout the city, and putting solar panels on my roof. The city is also working to protect our watersheds through programs such as the Homeowner Incentive Program, which provides assistance to Lake Whatcom Watershed residents to help reduce runoff into our drinking water supply, and the award-winning Squalicum Creek reroute project, which improves water quality and habitat.

Social services: The city continues to invest in the health and well-being of our community. With the help of the voter-approved Bellingham Housing Levy, we’re able to produce more supported and affordable housing. We have also been providing a homeless outreach team and crisis management.

Transportation and infrastructure: We have several important transportation projects, including extending Orchard Street under the freeway to the Irongate area to decrease congestion, construction of Granary Avenue to provide access to the central waterfront, and a new state-of-the-art drinking water pretreatment plant. We’re also investing in internal city infrastructure, including replacing a 25-year-old financial system.

Parks and trails: Several important parks are slated for development in the next two years, including the Cordata Community Park and the first park on the central waterfront along Whatcom Waterway. The Bay to Baker Trail is also under construction.

These projects and programs are just a few of the many that the city will be working on in the next two years. More information on these projects and many more can be found at cob.org.

To do all of this important work, the city employs around 1,200 full- and part-time employees. Salaries and benefits account for more than 70 percent of our general fund expenses, and our employees are also our greatest asset. Through working with our bargaining groups, I am pleased that we’ve reached agreements on all of our open labor contracts.

While the city is doing a lot, we can’t do this alone, which is why our partnerships are so important. We continue to work with Whatcom County and the Port of Bellingham on a joint legislative agenda, which allows us to have a unified voice in Olympia on transportation and infrastructure, environmental clean ups, housing and mental health investments. We are also working together on jail funding and alternatives, our emergency medical services and protecting Lake Whatcom. Our community’s nonprofits and private companies are also key partners that allow us to expand our ability to provide a wide range of essential services to our residents.

Local governments across the country continue to struggle with balancing their budgets as expenses grow faster than revenue, even as our economy continues to recover from the recession. This creates unique challenges for our city. Key investments in services, programs and infrastructure continue to position us well into the future, and although we must be careful and prudent as we move forward, I am cautiously optimistic. The city of Bellingham’s amazing employees continue to provide excellent services to the community, and our residents respond by participating in our government and volunteering for countless boards and commissions that enrich our community. I am grateful to be the mayor of this wonderful city where I grew up.

This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville to provide to share updates about City of Bellingham issues and projects. She invites citizens to contact her at 360-778-8100 or mayorsoffice@cob.org.

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