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Whatcom County Council discuss economic measures and relief due to COVID-19

An illustration of Whatcom County council. // Illustration by Rachel Alexander

Whatcom County Council announced new measures to cope with the economic impact of COVID-19

By Courtney Gullett

The Whatcom County Council announced  continued  focus on COVID-19 relief efforts in their meeting on Tuesday, April 21. These efforts will majorly focus on the economic impact and budget for the coming fiscal year. 

The council announced it will be implementing three new response measures in order to keep the county running at minimal cost. These new measures include: a selective temporary hiring freeze, department direction to delay general fund contracts that are not life-threatening matters and decreasing discretionary expenditures by 5%. 

“Ideally we would like to make a minimum cash balance of $8 million which is approximately one month expinditures,” County Executive Satpal Sidhu said. 

Without these new measures, the expected cash flow was predicted to drop below $5 million, according to Tyler Schroeder of the County Executive's Office. 

These measures were created based on predictions that Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order will remain in place for the next two months followed by a period of low spending and recovery according to Sidu. 

Relief efforts are becoming increasingly economic as the county approaches a new fiscal year. COVID-19 has increased the Whatcom County unemployment rate. According to the Washington State Employment Security Department data 14,672 people filed for unemployment in March compared to 649 in February. 

 “I applaud the focus on cash flow. I think that is the number one priority. That being said, we are being far too optimistic as to what the numbers are going to be,” Councilmember Rud Browne said. 

The economic impact of COVID-19 will be felt more than that of the 2008 recession, Browne said.

The council brought historical examples to the table when discussing preparedness. “Going from nothing to 20 million people unemployed in four weeks,I think we are going to see a much more significant hit and we are better off if we plan for that now,” Council member Tyler Byrd said. “If we come out of the year with a little extra money than we planned for, then we are on the other side of that.” 

These new measures are designed to keep the county budget in positive standing through the COVID-19 crisis. The county plans to continue relief efforts as needed through the coming months. 

While many of these measures are directed toward county officials and structure, they will still help the general residents. The council said the goals of these measures are to prepare to weather the financial impact of this emergency, keep the county organization intact and resume expected operations for the community. 


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