Bellingham council revises Climate Action Fund draft

Council to host public hearing on tax June 27
June 7, 2022 at 12:58 p.m.

Staff Reporter

Members of the Bellingham City Council voiced concerns with the draft version of the Climate Action Fund, a potential $60 million, 10-year levy, during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. 

Concerns regarding the tax, which would add an additional $0.37 per $1,000 of a property’s value, ranged from simple language changes to much larger questions of community support and whether November’s election is the right time to add another tax onto a “tax-fatigued” community.

“I have grave concerns over process, over how this is going to work, some of the things within the resolution,” council member Daniel Hammill said. “I just don't understand how this is going to happen, practically speaking, when it comes to passing a ballot measure that will tax people. We’re asking people to pay out of their pockets for this.” 

Though the tax has been promoted as Bellingham leading by example, Hammill says he’s not convinced other cities will follow suit in establishing climate funds. 

“We have to attack this problem in a broader, strategic way,” he said. “I think we need to advocate at the state level to do what we’re talking about here, to create some kind of fund that [stretches] across the state. It’s a gamble that other cities will look to us.”

Council member Lisa Anderson echoed Hammill’s concerns. After speaking with constituents, she said the draft language is “too general” in describing how the funds will be used. 

“Everybody is concerned about climate, … but overall, the consensus I’ve heard is that people are tax fatigued,” she said. “[People] are tired of writing blank checks. They want to know how the money is going to be spent.” 

The proposed tax comes at a challenging time for the council, with high inflation, ballooning property values and stagnating wages. There are also several other levies already slated for November’s ballot. 

“The time is never going to be just right to do something like this,” Mayor Seth Fleetwood told the council members. “I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a perfect time, especially given the reality that some people submit is the prospect of an impending recession.” 

During the session, council member Michael Lilliquist advocated for language changes, particularly relating to the use of the funds for utility providers. Employees at the city will revisit the draft and update the language prior to the public hearing on June 27. 

Other council members, though, aren’t ready to hash out specific language yet. 

“We can argue over words … but the bottom line is what is going to make this thing pass?” council member Skip Williams asked. “That’s what we need to focus on. I don’t think the generalities of the language, tweaking a word here and there, is going to make people flip the switch.” 

Council members are gearing up for a public hearing on the tax, set for their June 27 meeting, and then a vote on the proposed tax during their July 11 meeting. 

Read the draft below:

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