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Signatures being gathered to repeal children’s levy passed in 2022

November ballot initiative pushed by Lynden-based group

Ashley Butenschoen talks to a passerby Tuesday, April 23 about repealing Proposition 5, or the Healthy Children's Fund, at Safeway in Lynden. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
By Julia Tellman Local News Reporter

This election reporting is provided free to all readers as a public service by your locally owned Cascadia Daily News. Thanks for supporting truly local news by donating to CDN or subscribing here.

A group of Whatcom County residents has likely gathered enough signatures to introduce a ballot measure repealing Prop 5, also known as the “Healthy Children’s Fund,” in the November election.

Prop 5 was a 10-year “levy lid lift” that increases property taxes from 75 cents to 94 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to fund early childhood education, expand child care access and support vulnerable populations through the Healthy Children’s Fund. It’s expected to bring in nearly $20 million by the end of this year and $100 million total by its renewal date in 2032.

The levy passed by only 20 votes in 2022. While 68.2% of Bellingham voters supported the measure, only 38.6% of voters outside Bellingham’s city limits voted yes. For the owner of a $500,000 house in Whatcom County, the 19-cent increase means roughly an additional $124 a year in taxes.

To Ashley Butenschoen, who is volunteering as the communications manager for the repeal campaign, the levy’s razor-thin winning margin means that the proposition is “something worth taking back to the people — worth pushing back on.”

She said that the group, made up mostly of Lynden residents, is not opposed to funding for child care, and emphasized that the reason for the repeal is the ever-rising cost of living in Whatcom County. 

“For people that just want a way to make their lives more affordable, for families who are living paycheck to paycheck, or college students whose rent keeps going up — they want to see housing become more affordable, but we’re trending in the opposite direction,” she said. 

To get the repeal on the November ballot, the group needed to gather around 6,400 voter signatures by early June.

As of Thursday, May 2, volunteers had collected nearly 9,000 signatures, which allows for a margin of error when the county auditor verifies them, and Butenschoen said that the campaign expected to surpass 10,000 by the end of the weekend.

The proposed ballot language and campaign materials don’t mention the Healthy Children’s Fund or early childhood development. 

A sign calling for signatures to repeal Proposition 5 sits outside of Safeway. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)

Studies show that every dollar invested in early childhood programs saves between $7 and $13 through outcomes like lower incarceration rates and lower health care costs. Prop 5 proponents say that many Whatcom children have experienced learning discrepancies as the result of inequitable access to early childhood care

“We are disappointed that a small group of people are trying to dismantle these critical public health measures and to put our most vulnerable kids and families at risk,” Whatcom Child Care Coalition convener Meredith Hayes wrote in an email to Cascadia Daily News. 

The repeal campaign, backed by political action committee Washingtonians for a Sound Economy, has raised nearly $40,000 in donations, according to the Public Disclosure Commission, mostly from Lynden businesses such as Dekoster Excavating, Faber Construction, Stremler Gravel, and Axiom Division 7. (Axiom owner Tim Koetje has also made a large personal donation.) 

Some voters who signed the repeal petition told Butenschoen they blame the failure of recent school bonds on Prop 5. In a special election this February, bonds to renovate Blaine Middle School and rebuild Lynden High School failed to receive the supermajority needed to pass. 

Butenschoen said she’s also heard from voters who initially supported Proposition 5 but are now having trouble understanding what the money is being used for. 

“There are a lot of things in the 90-page implementation plan that weren’t sold to the voter or understood by the voter,” she said. 

Based on the timeline in the implementation plan, at this point the county health department should be selecting and funding projects. County deputy executive Kayla Schott-Bresler, who serves on the county child care task force, said the process has been “slower than we’d hoped.” 

“A lot of that reflects that the child care side of the fund is really new work for the county,” she continued. “It’s like we’re standing up an entirely new vision and line of business for this organization that has historically run a jail and paved roads.” 

Another factor slowing down the Healthy Children’s Fund expenditure is the deployment of federal ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) resources. The county council has dedicated $13 million of ARPA funds for child care, $10 million of which is for capital funding. The investment is expected to create 600 new child care slots; the countywide shortage for child care slots has been estimated at 5,000, with rural areas particularly experiencing that deficit. 

“ARPA had to go first, because the capital funding will help build some facilities and the Healthy Children’s Fund will come alongside that to advance quality and affordability for the care that was taking place in those facilities,” Schott-Bresler explained. “[ARPA] was a one-time thing — we’re never going to have that money again and there were expenditure deadlines, so we really focused on deploying those resources.”  

Behind the scenes, though, almost $16 million of the Healthy Children’s Fund has already been dedicated or planned. More than $2 million has been awarded this year to Lydia Place, Mercy Housing NW, Ferndale Community Services, and St. Francis Generations for a spectrum of services such as case management, infant child care, and housing stability. 

“Since voters passed Prop 5 and created the Healthy Children’s Fund, there has been a tremendous amount of work from fund administrators and child care partners to make sure our local dollars will have the impact that we all want for our children and families,” Hayes said.  

A hallmark element of the Healthy Children’s Fund is subsidies that address the gap between what child care providers need and what families can afford. Schott-Bresler said that as the health department and child care task force begin to design that subsidy program this summer, it’ll be a good opportunity for public input. 

“We really want to hear from families and providers on what’ll work for them,” she said.  

The health department will present a status update on the Healthy Children’s Fund implementation to the county council during its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 7. 

The story was updated on May 2 at 3:28 p.m. with updated numbers for signatures collected.

Julia Tellman writes about civic issues and anything else that happens to cross her desk; contact her at

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