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Update: Whatcom child care tax passes now that the election is certified

Bellingham Herald - 11/29/2022

Nov. 29—A ballot measure to tax Whatcom County property owners to fund child care, preschool and other programs took its first lead and has passed as a final ballot count was posted on the eve of election certification, after trailing since the first voter returns were released Nov. 8.

A ballot count posted Monday, Nov. 28, put Proposition 5 ahead by 20 votes out of 108,580 votes cast, with no more votes to be counted, according to the Whatcom County Auditor's Office website.

It required only a simple majority to pass.

Its passage was finalized Tuesday, Nov. 29, when the Canvassing Board certified the results of the election.

Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu, an early supporter countywide programs to solve the child-care crisis, told The Bellingham Herald that he was grateful for the measure's passage.

"The Healthy Children's Fund is a community-driven initiative, and an enormous effort went into developing this vision and communicating it to voters. I am grateful to the team of advocates who fought tirelessly for the children of Whatcom County," Sidhu said in an email.

"I also want to recognize that the passage of Proposition 5 means that Whatcom County will be taking on a lot of work and responsibility, and we will be accountable for how we spend these new funds and the results they achieve. I am confident that we will live up to the challenge," he said.

While supporters of the measure had high hopes, its passage seemed doubtful as it trailed in the first three rounds of ballot counts that were released Nov. 8-10.

But it gained votes with every subsequent release of ballots.

Ultimately, the winning difference was the 434 ballots that had been rejected for reasons such as a missing voter signature or a signature that didn't match, said Andrew Reding, chair of the Whatcom Democrats.

Democrats, who supported the measure, used their campaign apparatus to let voters know that their ballots had been challenged and showed them how to "cure" the ballot and make their vote count.

"The extensive post-election two-week effort to cure ballots was run by campaign manager Jace Cotton out of our Whatcom Democrats office downtown with Jace's and other campaign organizers' salaries paid by the Prop. 5 campaign, which supervised the effort," Reding told The Herald in an email.

"In other words, it was deeply collaborative. We are super grateful for the many volunteers who took part in this effort. Every single person's effort made a big difference as seen in the final outcome," he said.

Heather Flaherty, executive director of the Chuckanut Health Foundation, another early supporter of the measure and a member of its campaign team, told The Herald in an email, "This campaign has shown us all how important every single vote is."

Every person makes a difference — and all those "yes" votes for children and families mean that we now get to work to increase access to early learning and childcare, and critical supports for some of our most at-risk and vulnerable children in every corner of our county and make sure this ballot measure holds to every promise made," she said.

Prop. 5, the Children's Initiative, will charge property owners 19 cents for every $1,000 of assessed valuation, raising $8.2 million annually.

That means that the owner of a home assessed at $500,000 would pay $95 a year for the 10-year life of the levy.

It was placed on the ballot by the Whatcom County Council and had broad support from employers, especially the health-care industry.

It was opposed by the Whatcom Republicans and by several GOP candidates who lost their bids for office.

"We know that families are struggling, and we know that there is more that we can do," Flaherty, told the County Council earlier this year.

In a written report to the council, the Children's Initiative Committee said that 34% of all Whatcom County households spend more than 30% of their income on housing, including the 51% of households who rent.

Some two-thirds of families lack access to child care, keeping parents and caregivers out of the workforce, the report said.

An idea for a voter initiative to fund early childhood education and other programs was part of the Child and Family Action Plan that the County Council approved in 2020.

This story was originally published November 28, 20226:56 PM.


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