Sidhu, Shewmake talk Birch Bay incorporation


Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu and state senator Sharon Shewmake (D-42nd District) fielded questions about what it would mean for Birch Bay to become its own city during the May 16 Birch Bay Incorporation Association meeting at North Bay Community Church.
While Shewmake and Sidhu said they were neither for nor against Birch Bay incorporation, the two said a city government would provide Birch Bay more of a voice on issues, ranging from the county to federal level. Both admitted they had never been involved in an incorporation and were catching up to speed on the topic.
Sidhu said incorporated areas wouldn’t get as much attention from the county as they would if they had their own city government. He said the county could provide unincorporated communities more attention in specific circumstances, such as when Point Roberts was isolated during the pandemic U.S./Canada border closure.
“Definitely during Covid, Point Roberts rose to the top,” Sidhu said. “We could service them but they were the most impacted probably in whole western United States.”
Shewmake said she didn’t know whether incorporation was the right thing to do or not, but she wasn’t the one making the decision as she lives in Bellingham.
“But if you think it’s the right thing to do for your community, I’m here to help,” Shewmake said.
Sidhu said he’s discussed Birch Bay incorporation with the sheriff’s office, public works, and planning and development services department so they were aware of the possibility.
“No one has come up and said, ‘Oh my God this could be a disaster. Don’t do it.’ Or, ‘Do it this way. Do it that way,” Sidhu said.
Sidhu encouraged Birch Bay residents to consider having their own school district to keep property taxes in their community. Sidhu also told residents that a city would inherit assets and the state may be able to provide funding as the city started.
Birch Bay incorporation would mean the county would receive less money, but it also would be providing fewer services to the community. If Birch Bay became a city, it would have the option of contracting services from Whatcom County, Sidhu said.
“I’ve been trying to make it very clear to all of the community today that we are neutral,” Sidhu said. “We’re not saying we want to give up Birch Bay. It has some advantages for the taxes and other things, but at the same time, I’m saying if you decide to incorporate, we will adjust. We are not pushing either way.”
The proposed incorporation boundaries that would be considered in the feasibility study generally follow Birch Bay’s urban growth area. Shewmake questioned whether Birch Bay residents would want to include the area containing Birch Bay Square, which is not in the proposed incorporation boundaries, to collect its sales tax.
Whatcom County Council is anticipated to vote in June on approving $200,000 for an incorporation feasibility study. The study would be the next step in the lengthy incorporation process and provide a clearer picture on how much it would cost for Birch Bay to become its own city.
When asked whether the money for the incorporation study could be better spent elsewhere, Sidhu said he believed the feasibility study was worth it for Birch Bay residents to have data to decide whether they want to pursue incorporation.
BBIA has a funding goal of $11,500 for expenses such as $5,000 needed to send out mailers. The organization has reached $1,300 of that so far and is applying for grants, BBIA chair Matt Berry said after the meeting.
A few people voiced their opposition to incorporation. Some residents asked that mailers be sent to households to better gauge if the community wanted to pursue the feasibility study. Berry said BBIA did not have the funds for the mailers and Sidhu said county council may be able to vote on additional funds.
Sidhu said the county would provide as much information as it could to people with questions about how incorporation could impact the community.
“We want the citizens to independently make their decision on how they want to be governed,” he said.
BBIA holds quarterly association meetings, with the next meeting scheduled for August 15. For more information about BBIA, visit



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