Whatcom County Election Recap
Just over half of Whatcom County voters participated (51% voter turnout) in this year’s election that featured key races for County Executive, Mayor of Bellingham, a sales tax increase to address public safety/build a new correction facility, and two, voter-approved initiatives that will impact small businesses in Bellingham. Whatcom Business Alliance engaged on these issues and articulated the key issues facing WBA members to all of the candidates that ran across the county. Here is a recap of some of the results that will impact you and your business.
Citizens can expect much of the same direction at the County level with Satpal Sidhu winning re-election by a wide margin and the ideological makeup of the Council staying similar to the current council even with two new members being elected: Mark Stremler, a conservative candidate who beat the incumbent, right of center councilmember, Kathy Kershner; and Jon Scanlon winning the open seat being vacation by Carol Frazey, both who are left of center. At the county level, implementing the voters’ will and building (and designing) the new correction facility and deciding on the services it will offer (how to spend the new sales tax revenue approved by voters) will be a top priority for both the Council and the Executive.
There have also been some preliminary discussions about increasing the minimum wage countywide based on what Bellingham voters just passed (see below). If this discussion moves beyond just “an idea” there will surely be a lot of discussion surrounding the impact of having such a high wage countywide especially in the rural parts of Whatcom County. Future 42 and groups like the Whatcom Business Alliance will be in the forefront of working with businesses and elected leaders to highlight the negative consequences of being the county with the state’s highest minimum wage.
Bellingham has a new mayor, Kim Lund, who is interested in working with businesses in the city and had several business leaders endorse and support her campaign. She shares many of the same ideological beliefs as Mayor Fleetwood but will be governing and leading in a different way though she will need to work with a very progressive council. Two policy areas that will change in the city are the minimum wage that will increase in 2024 to $1 higher than the state’s already high (increasing to $16.28 in January, one of the highest in the country) minimum wage; and the “renter’s rights” initiative that will require landlords to provide 120 days written notice of a rent increase above 8% and would require “rental relocation assistance” equal to three times the fair market rent or the HUD market average, whichever is larger. So rents in the city can be increased but not without some “penalties/disincentives” which might not have been clear during the election. There have already been some discussions of a possible legal challenge (both Bellingham’s and a similar measure that passed in Tacoma) so we will report back when we learn more about next steps as this new law is implemented citywide. The new law takes effect on January 27th though the impact might not be seen until the spring when most of the new leases (for WWU students) will incorporate provisions resulting from this initiative. This will definitely have an impact on rental units and those small businesses/landlords that own rental property in the city as it could have different consequences on renters than initiative proponents intended.
Voters elected current Blaine Police Chief Donnell “Tank” Tanksley to lead the Sheriff’s Office over Undersheriff Doug Chadwick. Sheriff-Elect Tanksley was endorsed by progressive organizations and elected officials, pledging to bring about a new direction in the Sheriff’s Office. And it was interesting to review the results that the majority of voters in Blaine voted for Chadwick.
Finally, several school boards elected new members, with the school districts in Blaine, Lynden, Meridian and Ferndale either gaining center-right majorities or adding more “conservative” members.