Whatcom County Council sets state legislative priorities, highlights opioid epidemic and cost of living


Whatcom County Council had a busy start to the year. From naming dozens of citizens to various advisory boards, to petitioning the state and federal government to declare a state of emergency in regards to the ongoing opioid crisis, to setting legislative priorities while the state government is in session, here’s a roundup of recent happenings at county council.

Jail agreement

In the first meeting of 2024, on January 9, council extended an interlocal agreement with the city of Blaine to extend the county jail use agreement through December 31, 2024.

The contract allows suspects arrested by Blaine city police to be held in the county jail in Bellingham, with the city of Blaine held responsible for the cost of holding the inmate.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office holds these interlocal agreements with many other cities and tribes around Whatcom County.

Opioid crisis

In response to the opioid and fentanyl crisis that is tearing through communities in Whatcom County and across the U.S., council passed two resolutions, requesting both governor Jay Inslee and President Joe Biden declare official states of emergency in response to the opioid and fentanyl crisis.

According to figures cited by the county, 132 Whatcom ounty residents died of opioid overdoses in 2023, compared to 91 in 2022. Those figures have increased every year since 2018.

The Lummi Indian Business Council declared a state of emergency in September 2023, and implemented harsh restrictions in tandem with the sheriff’s office to attempt to curb the number of overdose-related deaths.

Funding for people with developmental disabilities

County council also voted to approve an addition of more than $600,000 in funding to provide services for adults and children with developmental disabilities, bringing the total amount over $6 million.

The funding comes in tandem with the state department of Social and Health Services, and provides funding for employment and community inclusion services for adults and child development services for children from birth to three, according to county documents.

Birch Bay Beach Park funding

Whatcom County updated its park, recreation and open space plan to be considered for state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) grants during the January 23 meeting.

With the update, the parks department will prioritize developing the first phase of the Birch Bay Beach Park, costing about $5.86 million, or 19 percent of the county park budget through 2028. The park will be located at 7930 Birch Bay Drive, near to the future Birch Bay Vogt Library Express.

Legislative priorities

County council clarified its legislative priorities for the brief, but busy, 2024 Washington state Legislative session. State lawmakers began the legislative session on January 8, and will conclude on March 1, 2024. With just eight weeks to work, county council set a list of priorities for local representatives to focus on.

Council requested an additional $360,000 from the state in order to increase the number of families helped with the county’s motel shelter program.

The program, which works in partnership with multiple private aid agencies, helps homeless families find temporary housing, usually in a motel, with a goal to move into permanent housing. Nearly 70 percent of families find permanent housing, and the program costs the county much less than traditional emergency shelters, according to county documents.

The county requested $80,000 from the state legislature to support Point Roberts tourism recovery after, “the economic devastation of the pandemic.” The funds would go toward design and planning costs for a new boat ramp at the Point Roberts Marina.

Council also highlighted a number of other “high priority issues” for local state representatives to focus on, including the skyrocketing cost of housing, climate action and salmon habitat recovery, watershed acquisition, and sustainable funding for law enforcement. 

During the January 23 county council meeting, council voted to enter into a contract with the state Department of Ecology to receive funding for technical assistance for the upcoming water adjudication of the Nooksack River, totaling $300,000.

The funding will help the county increase public awareness about the upcoming water rights adjudication, which is set to begin the lengthy process of collecting and parsing out claims for water usage along the Nooksack. Ecology is set to begin the adjudication process this spring, which will affect thousands of surface, groundwater and well users across Whatcom County. 


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