Op-Ed

Here’s what the mayors want you to know about the Whatcom jail sales tax measure

Maximum security cell block at the Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham.
Maximum security cell block at the Whatcom County Jail in Bellingham. The Bellingham Herald file

Whatcom voters drive a hard bargain.

When the jail ballot came up short in 2015, voters made it clear what they wanted from their leaders, and now they have it.

From Blaine to Fairhaven, Lummi Island to Lynden, the legislative bodies and executives of every city and Whatcom County itself listened and crafted a fair jail deal that was approved by each council, every mayor, the county executive and our county sheriff.

This is a vastly improved plan from 2015. It funds operations, medical beds, mental-health treatment and incarceration-prevention programming along with jail construction. The 36 medical beds included won’t exist unless this ballot passes.

We need a safe jail. Everyone agrees the current space is dangerous for employees, inmates and we are only one faulty lock away from a tragedy. The new location is ideally situated in manufacturing-zoned land, easily accessible by law enforcement across the county. Since 2013, felony filings have increased by 20 percent and overcrowding causes booking restrictions, transfers to facilities across the state away from family connections and early releases.

We can’t afford to play politics on these issues. At just 20 cents per $100 of non-food items, this will fund not only construction but also ongoing operations and incarceration prevention initiatives – something a property tax increase can’t do. The proposal helps cities like Ferndale and Lynden fund public safety needs, including police, fire departments and court. It also provides Bellingham and Whatcom County an additional $30 million over 30 years to expanded incarceration-prevention programs. In short, this is a good, fair deal for all involved.

Delayed construction escalates cost by $6 million annually. All mayors, city councils, county council, county executive and sheriff support this modified proposal. Please vote yes for a safe, just and humane jail.

Jon Mutchler is mayor of Ferndale and Scott Korthuis is mayor of Lynden.

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