Updated Oct. 24, 2022
The League of Women Voters of Bellingham-Whatcom County held an online election forum Tuesday to discuss Proposition 5, the Healthy Children’s Initiative. The measure would authorize a property tax of $0.19 per $1,000 of assessed valuation on all taxable property in Whatcom County for 10 years to fund early childhood programs, affordable childcare and access to support for homeless and vulnerable children.
Emily O’Connor, executive director of Lydia Place, and Mike Hammes, owner and CEO of Ram Construction, spoke in favor of the proposition. Laurie Williams, Bellingham community member, spoke against.
In our continued commitment to accuracy and to the fight against misinformation in our political system, Salish Currentfact-checked some of the statements made by these speakers.
• Laurie Williams statement: There are fewer than 867 homeless people and only 7% of those actually have to do with children.
Score: Somewhat true
The Whatcom County Health Department conducts an annual point-in-time survey that reports on homelessness in the county. As of July, there were 832 homeless individuals in Whatcom County, a 3% decrease from the 859 recorded last year.
The survey found 13% of homeless households included children. Seventy-seven families were in interim housing facilities and five were unsheltered. Of the homeless population, 7% of the households had children 10 to 17 years old, and 11% had children under 10 years old.
• Emily O’Connor statement: Lydia Place has the largest waitlist for homeless individuals she’s seen in 11 years, and 180 families are on that list.
Ashley Thomasson, Lydia Place housing director, said there were 182 homeless families in the housing pool as of the third week in September; there were 49 families in February 2020. She said she hasn’t seen the housing pool wait list this high in 14 years. Teri Bryant, director of the Whatcom Homeless Service Center, said there is an increase in homeless families compared to homeless singles. She said there are 177 homeless families in the housing pool and 402 adults with no children, though the numbers fluctuate.
• Laurie Williams statement: We’ve had a 4.8% property increase in 2022, it costs $342.11 to feed one person, the median cost of a house is up 22.9%, the Climate Act will add 46 cents to a gallon of gasoline, and the county’s unemployment rate was 7.4% in 2021.
Score: Partly true [Updated Oct. 24, 2022; see editor’s note below]
Whatcom County’s 2022 property tax information report showed that property taxes collected this year will be 4.8% more than last year. The MIT Living Wage Calculator, which updates data in the first quarter of the year, calculates annual food expenses for one adult with no children at $3,999 which is $333.25 per month. The Sammamish Mortgage Group reports that the median home price in Bellingham in 2022 is more than $580,950, a 22.9% increase year over the previous year and that the median home price for Whatcom is $488,000, a 21.8% increase. Washington’s new CO2 emissions tax is projected to add 46 cents per gallon to gas prices in 2023, and 80 cents per gallon by 2030, according to the Washington Policy Center. [Editor’s note: A Washington Department of Ecology spokesperson said the agency’s analysis does not confirm any exact price change, and that the 46 cents per gallon number was introduced by other groups.] The Employment Security Department states that the county’s unemployment rate was 17.4% in April 2020, and had declined to 6% in 2021.
• Emily O’Connor statement: There is a supply-and-demand issue with child care workers.
The childcare workforce has lost 88,000 jobs, or 8.4% of its workforce, since February 2020, according to AmericanProgress.org.
• Laurie Williamson statement: There were 116 childcare facilities in Bellingham and Whatcom County until policies made home daycares unaffordable, reducing the number to a current 39.
Score: Somewhat untrue
There were 119 childcare providers across the county in 2019, providing 3,608 childcare openings, although a total of 8,070 children and families needed slots at the time according to Child Care Aware of Northwest Washington. There were 109 providers in 2018. Salish Current could locate no source indicating a drop to 39 childcare providers in 2022, but the Bellingham Herald reported in March that 10% of childcare centers in Whatcom County have closed over the past two years, resulting in a loss of 84 childcare openings.
• Emily O’Connor said: 88% of the businesses in Whatcom County report that childcare is a problem for them.
In 2018, the Opportunity Council and the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce reported that 88% of Whatcom County business owners said child care barriers affect their employees’ work performance.
• Emily O’Connor statement: The number of families waiting for housing was down to the teens pre-pandemic due to hard work investing in programs, building services and building housing access, but when the pandemic hit, that number ballooned quickly.
The number of families awaiting housing reached “functional zero” in 2018, the Whatcom County Health Department reported. The number of homeless individuals countywide decreased 14% from 2018 due to moderating rent growth, wage increases, a new 40-bed permanent supportive housing facility and increased services.
• Laurie Williams statement: There will be astronomical increases in utility rates in 2023, including cable, phone, trash and sewage.
Score: Somewhat true
King5 News reported that a number of utility agencies in the Puget Sound Region submitted rate increases for 2023. The City of Bellingham’s sewage rate increases will depend on what improvements are made to its Post Point plant. Puget Sound Energy has filed a three-year rate proposal with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission for a 12.9% rate increase in January 2023, as reported by Cascadia Daily News. Whether these rate increases are “astronomical” is open to debate.
— Reported by Kai Uyehara
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