Birch Bay water sewer district looking for ways to help clients

Published on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 by Nathan Dalla Santa

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Customers of the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District (BBWSD) may soon see a new addition to their monthly bills – the option to make a donation to help a neighbor in need.

At the January 23 BBWSD meeting, commissioners considered adding a donation box on customers’ monthly utility statement to help raise funds for a Birch Bay arm of the Community Assistance Program (CAP), a nonprofit organization that works to help residents who are in need. The donation option would be similar to the warm-home fund donation system offered by Puget Sound Energy and the CAP program that is already established in Blaine.

“For years now, the Community Assistance Program has been assisting Whatcom County residents in getting basic utilities and, for years now, this has been benefiting our customers,” said BBWSD finance director Sandi McMillan. Civic organizations, churches and residents in Whatcom County volunteer to operate the Community Assistance Program (CAP).

CAP director Jerry Williams said the idea for the donation program began around 15 years ago in Blaine, and at the beginning of each month the organization receives information from the city on how much money has been collected through the utility statements. They are then able to delegate the funds as needed – the process would be similar in Birch Bay. “It’s a very positive thing that gives everyone in the community an opportunity to be a giver instead of just a taker,” he said. “It’s a terrific relationship we’re looking forward to establishing.”

District assistant manager Dan Eisses hopes the measure will be approved at the board of commissioners meeting in February. Once approved, it will take a few months for the donation option to begin appearing on customers’ bills.

“It isn’t our intention to shift the burden onto district customers,” said BBWSD president Don Montfort. “We’re trying to broaden the source of money [the CAP] has to work with.”

There are between 10 and 12 Birch Bay residents who currently benefit from Community Assistance Program resources at any given time, McMillan said. Although the program aims to help residents in Blaine, Custer and Birch Bay, the money gathered through Birch Bay district donations will be kept in a separate fund, operated by CAP, which will be reserved for Birch Bay district customers.

Williams said the organization is very cautious about how the money is spent – it is generally reserved for emergency use only. “We generally only offer financial help once a year, when someone is in a situation that is quite critical,” he said. “But the BBWSD is very concerned about being able to help the people they serve, and this is one way they can help provide that assistance.”

Money collected through donations is kept in an escrow fund, which gains interest over the years. In exchange for monthly donations from BBWSD, the CAP will give quarterly reports to the BBWSD commissioners, explaining how the money is being used. “I approached them 18 months ago about this,” Williams said. “And they were already considering the same thing. I just walked in at the right time.” 

In other district news, BBWSD’s plan to construct a new headworks for their wastewater treatment plant is underway. The project, which is supposed to increase the plant’s wastewater treatment capacity from about 2.5 million to 4 million gallons per day, has been in the planning stage since 2012. Award Construction, the contractor selected for the job, broke ground at the construction site at the end of December and crews started pouring concrete for the new indoor facility on January 29.

Eisses expects the project to be completed by September.