Six of seven
SIX OF SEVEN: The mayors of Whatcom County’s smaller cities gathered over the weekend for a roundtable discussion of challenges that face their respective communities. From their perspective, the largest challenge appeared to be living in the shadow of sister Bellingham’s dominance of retail sales and tax receipts. From the perspective of many listeners, the challenge was the early, ardent and uncritical approval these mayors delivered in support of a proposal that could freight as much as 48 million metric tons of coal per year through their mainstreets on trains approaching two miles in length.
The roundtable forum on “The State of Our Small Cities” was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Bellingham/Whatcom County. Featured were Scott Korthuis of Lynden; Harry Robinson of Blaine; Bob Bromley of Sumas; Jim Ackerman of Nooksack; and John Perry of Everson. Ferndale City Council member Mel Hansen filled in for Mayor Gary Jensen, who was unable to attend. The event was held at Ferndale City Hall with approximately 70 people in attendance.
Mayors sketched a broad slate of concerns, many related to the planning each city must perform this year as the county and her cities plan to accommodate population growth, as required under state law. Compounding their difficulties, each city is operating with aging infrastructure and capital facilities, under budgets crimped by cuts at the state and federal level and economies only now beginning to recover from the collapse of the construction industry. The economies and fortunes of these communities have shifted dramatically since the turn of the new century.
None comes close to approaching the revenue engine that is the City of Bellingham, ballooning back to health after hitting a low in 2008. Ferndale, the mightiest engine of the bunch, captures only a tenth of Bellingham’s property tax receipts. Receipts from retail sales is an even bigger blowout, with Ferndale collecting about a penny for every dollar collected in Bellingham.