Blaine City Council approved providing Whatcom County Search and Rescue (SAR) with $10,000 of reimbursable expenses for the nonprofit to construct a new facility in Everson during its September 11 meeting.
SAR volunteers received a $750,000 land donation in Everson this year after learning their building would be torn down in May 2024 to make way for a new Whatcom County planning department and public works building. The money will go toward permitting, engineering, building design and construction of a $1.9 million facility.
Blaine police chief Donnell Tanksley originally asked council to consider giving $25,000 for the building, citing the contributions SAR has done for Blaine and Whatcom County.
“It’s really impressive that they are all volunteers,” Tanksley said. “They pay for every single thing. They pay for their fuel, their vehicles. They come out almost any time a law enforcement or first responder agency needs them.”
Everson and Nooksack have committed donating $5,000 each and Sumas city officials verbally said they would assist with funding, SAR Council treasurer Gwynne Top said. SAR plans to ask Ferndale for $25,000 and Bellingham for $50,000.
“We are in a position where we are losing our building, and we have no funds,” Top said.
Councilmembers said they wanted to support SAR but were hesitant to immediately contribute the full amount until other cities and the county provided funding. Councilmember Richard May said wanted Blaine’s contribution to be proportional to its tax base compared to the other cities. Councilmembers Eric Davidson and Garth Baldwin said they believed SAR was a county service and wanted to see Whatcom County contribute money.
The $10,000 will come out of about $160,000 in the police department’s special revenue fund, which finance director Daniel Heverling said is rarely used. Tanksley said the SAR contribution wouldn’t impact police department needs.
Councilmembers said they would consider additional funds if other cities and Whatcom County contributed more money.
“It’s not that we don’t want to help you, but other cities are in a better position to help you,” councilmember Mike Hill said.
SAR began as an unofficial group in Whatcom County in 1955 and has grown to over 200 volunteers operating under the SAR Council. The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office coordinates SAR missions, which include searches for people, such as injured hikers and people with dementia, flood rescue and other emergency responses. The group specializes in foot search, snowmobile, dive, technical rope and swiftwater rescue, according to SAR.
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