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Bellingham
Sunday, May 24, 2020

Whatcom County Council tables an emergency ordinance

The ordinance was set up to respond to the economic crisis within Whatcom County

A screen capture of Whatcom County Council’s virtual meeting held on May 5. // Screen capture by Courtney Gullett via Zoom

By Courtney Gullett

The Whatcom County Council voted on an ordinance establishing a COVID-19 interim economic recovery plan to respond to the economic crisis within the county. The ordinance was ultimately withdrawn from the agenda after a 5-2 vote, with councilmembers Byrd and Elenbaas opposed. 

Councilmember Rud Browne presented this ordinance to the rest of the council. He said the goal is to kick off the economic recovery phase of COVID-19. 

“COVID is about responding to health and safety issues with a lot of businesses that the health department doesn’t interact with,” Browne said. “To reach out to all those other businesses will take a lot of man-hours.” 

This ordinance would establish a committee of nine to 13 individuals who have had experience dealing with an economic downturn. These committee members would help with messaging and advise, Browne said.

Browne said that recovery from the economic impacts of COVID-19 will require  individuals with business and economic backgrounds, not just public health officials. The ordinance would work closely with current economic business partners such as the Port of Bellingham and Team Whatcom. 

“I think that what the council would be doing by adopting this measure is creating an opportunity for the business community and public health department to work collaboratively together to bring recommendations back,” Steven Oliver, Whatcom County treasurer, said. 

Councilmember Ben Elenbaas brought up concerns that this new ordinance won’t solve any issues not currently being dealt with. 

“I can’t support it,” Elenbaas said. “I feel like the resources are there for economic development, public health experts are already in place, we know what works and it is time to start moving forward. We don’t need to study this until we are blue in the face.” 

The main concern Elenbaas said he has with this ordinance is creating too many guidelines for businesses to open back up. He said this ordinance is putting money into operations that are already in place. 

Elenbaas said the focus should be on the immediate needs of the small business owners. He also noted businesses just want to open their doors, they are not focused on streamlining. 

Cash flow is the number one thing to focus on, businesses can still go under even with their doors open, Browne said. 

The ordinance was tabled as an emergency ordinance and will be reintroduced in two weeks as a regular agenda item. Browne said he will take the council’s suggestions and continue to work on the ordinance.

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