As ballots for the November election roll out this month and we consider the Jail Tax Measure, one gets the feeling we’ve been here before. Over 10 years ago Sheriff Elfo, along with other county officials, painted a grim picture regarding the state of the Whatcom County Jail. It’s unsafe – for inmates and corrections staff alike; it’s unsanitary, out of date and "literally falling apart."
As any officer or deputy who works in this county will tell you, that’s exactly the case. Which is why, in 2004, all of us supported the Jail Tax. In fact we convinced our friends and family to vote in favor and put signs in our yards showing support.
The tax passed authorizing 0.1% sales tax to be collected in a special fund set aside to build a brand new jail. That was the message to the public and to local law enforcement.
This year is different: none of the largest local law enforcement organizations have supported this new tax measure and the Bellingham Police Guild and Bellingham/Whatcom Firefighters Local 106 ask that you vote NO on 2015-1, the Jail Tax.
Why are we opposing the Jail Tax in 2015? If this passes, all of our public safety tax authority will be locked up for 30 years yet some of our most critical needs – for mental health or substance and alcohol abuse treatment—are left unanswered. As our community grows we may need to fund a police station, a mental health treatment facility or new fire stations to serve our neighborhoods. But if this tax passes, we may find that we can’t pay for programs and facilities that will keep your family safe and the mentally ill out of jail.
We can’t even be certain we’ll have the new jail. Since 2004, $31.5-million has been collected for that purpose. Land was purchased (at an astronomical price) and our old jail is still unsafe, overcrowded and "literally falling apart." Unfortunately, the same loopholes that allowed the 2004 jail sales tax to be squandered on other things are in this ballot measure too.
We believe any fiscally responsible plan must include mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities.
About the authors:
April Mitchelson has been a commissioned officer of the Bellingham Police Department for 15 years. She has been assigned primarily to patrol and investigations.
The Bellingham Police Guild is the labor union which represents all commissioned officers of the Bellingham PD up to the rank of Sergeant.
Robert Glorioso has been a professional Fire Fighter Paramedic for 12 years and has served the Bellingham Fire Department since 2010.
IAFF Local 106 Bellingham Whatcom Co represents all of the professional Fire Fighters in Bellingham, North Whatcom, Lynden, South Whatcom, Port of Bellingham and District 8.