Climate Action Fund update

Hopefully you saw the good news in our last Action Alert email that Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood listened to your concerns as business owners and employees and has canceled plans to put a property tax increase proposal before voters this fall. Thank you for contacting his office, as well as members of the city council, to voice your concerns about raising taxes for an undetermined new city program and creation of a new city department during this challenging year.

Even though this proposal will not be on the ballot this November, Whatcom Business Alliance would like to share the concerns we have with the proposal in general and the proposed timing, in particular.  We believe the correct terminology is that the levy decision has been “postponed” vs “canceled” as we are sure a similar proposal will be back soon, possibly next year.

Here are the basic components of the proposed Climate Action Fund:

  • The purpose was “to help the city reach its carbon reduction goals: 40% reduction from 2020 levels by 2030 and 85% by 2050.
  • It would have raised approximately $60 million over 10 years or $6 million a year.
  • Property taxes would be increased by 37 cents per $1000 of assessed value, or between $185-$248 on a $500,000 home in Bellingham.

The questions and concerns we have with the proposed Climate Action Fund:

  • Should Bellingham be increasing taxes to address climate change when other cities are not following suit? Is this better addressed at the state level — of which there are already several programs being implemented over the next couple of years as passed by the legislature?
  • What exactly will the new tax fund do and how will the funds be used? Will it help the city reduce its carbon levels? The goals laid out by the mayor were very general and had citizens and council members asking for more specifics. As Councilmember Lisa Anderson said in Cascadia Daily News, “(People) are tired of writing blank checks. They want to know how the money is going to be spent.” Another council member said our community is already “tax-fatigued,” especially during these high inflationary times combined with increasing property values and higher rents.
  • How much of the funding will actually be invested within the city? How much will be spent on the “creation of an office of climate action,” a new city department created per the language in the proposal? There needs to be a firm number from the new property tax that will be spent/invested in Bellingham and all funds should specifically address how they will target climate change.

There are already at least two other tax levies before voters this fall that we are aware of: renewal of the EMS levy and a possible new countywide tax to fund childcare services, which would potentially add additional tax burdens to individuals and businesses alike.

It is important to continue to voice your concerns and opinions regarding this proposal as the mayor and city council craft a new proposal for future debate.