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Whatcom CountyProposition 2023-04Public Health, Safety, and Justice Sales and Use Tax

Language on the Ballot:

The Whatcom County Council passed Ordinance No. 2023 - 39 concerning funding for public health, safety, and justice facilities and services. If approved, this proposition would authorize a sales and use tax of two-tenths of one percent (20 cents per $100.00) for costs associated with a new County jail, behavioral health, supportive housing, public safety, and other criminal justice facilities and services, as authorized by RCW 82.14.450. Should this proposition be approved? Yes/No

Explanatory Statement: If adopted, this measure would authorize Whatcom County to collect a sales and use tax of two-tenths of one percent (20 cents per $100.00) to provide funds for a new jail and behavioral health center offering mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and other projects prioritized in the Justice Project Implementation Plan such as community-based behavioral health treatment, supportive housing, re-entry support programs, expansion of incarceration reduction programs, and other public health, safety and criminal justice facilities and services. The Plan and additional information about the Justice Project can be viewed at

Statement For: Our jail is dangerous and unhealthy for inmates and staff: 20 women share one toilet/shower; failing elevators; no smoke evacuation - it’s inhumane and a liability. Expensive to run and inadequate, even as Whatcom’s population has doubled, mental health and addiction problems worsen, and inmate challenges grow. Cramped space limits family/attorney visitation; medical, behavioral, and addiction services. Millions of tax-dollars maintain it beyond its useful life, yet inmates don’t have needed services for healthy outcomes. Overcrowding means repeat offenders are often not held. We’re experiencing significantly increased property crimes, overdose deaths, and havoc from a growing drug crisis. Our current jail doesn’t enable accountability, public safety, or deliver critical treatment. Past levy results showed voters demand a humane jail with diversion and behavioral health programs, oversight, accountability, and public safety. Mental health professionals, first-responders, community leaders, citizens from diverse communities have built an innovative roadmap for better criminal justice and behavioral health outcomes. Twenty cents sales tax on $100 purchase, paid by everyone (including Canadian shoppers): about half builds a right-sized jail with onsite mental health and drug treatment, and half expands behavioral health and other public safety uses. Vote Yes for a safe jail and healthy outcomes.

Statement Against: Vote “No” on this re-packaged Jail Tax. We rejected this new tax twice already for the same reasons: it’s too expensive, and the Ferndale location means higher transportation costs, increased climate impacts, and an inefficient justice system. This year’s purposely vague proposal for a Ferndale jail is even larger than the ones we voted against twice. A 2017 report to the County Council said our jail population was too high because people sit in jail awaiting trial. Today, it’s even worse. People who can’t afford bail lose jobs and housing, leaving them homeless – a bigger jail won’t solve homelessness. A rough estimate suggests $137 million+ for construction alone (not including increased operating costs), and the County Treasurer has long-term fiscal concerns about overborrowing for a building at the expense of delivering services. We’re still paying a jail tax passed 19 years ago with little to show for it. Let’s reduce the need for jail beds instead of recklessly imposing a higher tax for an oversized jail. Twice our community has said to do the humane thing: fund services first. This proposal postpones services until 2030 to build an unaffordable mega-jail. Once again: “Vote No."

Rebuttal of Statement Against: The opposition ignores the many pretrial diversion and behavioral health programs and services implemented since 2017. This funds even more. A new jail is the cost-effective, humane answer to our expensive, unhealthy, failing, and dangerous jail. The cost estimate assumes a jail 20% over current capacity; that’s not a “mega-jail” – that’s right-sized for our growing community. Delays increase costs and impact public safety. The misinformation about “solving homelessness” and “overborrowing” are addressed at

Rebuttal of Statement For: Mismanagement of our current jail has caused it to fall into disrepair in less than 40 years, misusing funds from our current jail tax. Without a detailed jail design, we cannot guarantee these issues won’t happen again. Our jail overcrowding stems from inability to pay bail, not more or worse criminals. A bigger jail will not solve mental health, homelessness, or addiction. It is inhumane to lock people up before providing services they need.

Statement For prepared by: Yes! Safe Jail Healthy Outcomes Peter Frazier, Rud Browne, and Scott Korthuis

Statement Against prepared by: Makenzie Graham, Andrew Reding, and Todd Lagestee

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