Who raised the taxes in Whatcom County and why?
By Carl Weimer
Recently county council member Brenner wrote in this paper criticizing the council majority for raising the flood tax by $0.04/ $1,000 of property value. Without naming names, she hinted that this was all done just to take care of “an individual council member's wish list.” I was that mystery councilmember and here is a little more information about my “wish list.”
For the past couple of years the council has been reviewing all the various water plans and legal requirements that have not been implemented. Pete Kremen’s staff did a wonderful job of listing and prioritizing the 278 various water projects from 42 different plans that had either been approved or were legally required.
These projects had been put off for years, (by council’s Ms. Brenner was a part of), and the price tag had grown to tens of millions of dollars.
When I ran for office three years ago I promised that if elected I would focus on implementing the plans that hundreds of county residents had helped draft, that various past councils had approved, and that had become shelf art for lack of implementation.
In the area of water these plans included ways to protect and restore salmon runs and shellfish beds, protect and restore the drinking water source for the majority of the county, move forward with the many flood reduction projects to protect this county from the inevitable “big one,” and to ensure that our many lakes and streams remain usable for our grandchildren. Those are the projects that had become shelf art, and that is where my “wish list” came from.
Last spring Mr. Kremen’s staff came to county council and asked for our direction on how to prepare the budget to allow us to move forward on these projects.
The council provided that direction in May by voting to direct the administration to bring us a budget that would provide the money necessary to meet our legal obligations and move faster to implement a few of the top priorities. When the proposed budget was given to us in October it did not provide money to do either of those things as directed by the council.
To be blunt, the administration was relegating restoration of our water resources to shelf art again. At the very first budget meeting after the budget was given to us I proposed my “wish list,” which provided the revenue and expense path forward as the council had voted the previous May.
In her recent piece council member Brenner claimed that the tax increase of $1 per month on a $300,000 property might “financially break the taxpayer's back.” I doubt that is the case, but I know that putting off the implementation of these projects has already broken the backs of shellfish businesses and fishermen, it has put people and property at risk by not implementing flood projects, it has allowed the Lake Whatcom drinking water source to degrade further, and we are on the verge of breaking the back of the Puget Sound ecosystem where salmon, herring, and orcas are now listed as endangered.
I believe that spending $1 per month now will prevent us from having to spend way more in the future. This is also a great investment in protecting the quality of life we all give so much lip service to.
Ms. Brenner claimed that there is other money available, that the time isn’t right, that this was done as some sort of last minute maneuver, and that we don’t understand fully what needs to be done. Many of these arguments are just not accurate, and many are the same arguments that people have used for years to do nothing, which is why we now have such a backlog of needed projects.
Far too many politicians say they care, but then never take a potentially unpopular stand to actually solve these problems.
For years hundreds of volunteer citizens have spent thousands of hours on advisory committees with the best interests of the people and critters of Whatcom County in mind. My “wish list” comes directly from their hard work, and I stand by it.