The Gristle

A Game of Inches

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A GAME OF INCHES: Slow and hesitant marks the pace for a remarkably divided Bellingham City Council in 2014.

In a lengthy session on Monday, City Council acquiesced to neighborhood concerns about a dividing barrier along much of the length of the Alabama Street corridor, a major arterial with the highest incidence of collisions and pedestrian safety hazards in the city. Homeowners expressed concerns that an unbroken C-curb dividing the Alabama median could isolate much of Roosevelt neighborhood, preventing left turns along much of the corridor and potentially driving higher-speed through traffic on to quiet residential streets. Council duly shortened the length of the proposed C-curb and agreed to reduce speeds on Alabama to 30 miles per hour to address safety concerns.

Council similarly moved glacially toward a much-eroded licensing program for rental units in the city, wavering between a proposal that could not fully audit the city’s housing stock in less than a century and an option that would dispense with the audit altogether and produce little more than a telephone directory of landlords and property managers. The more robust program originally proposed to actively improve rental safety appears to have fading support on council. The problem, as the Gristle has noted, is there’s not a lot of information pro or con about the condition of rental housing stock in Bellingham, and even a random audit of just .5 percent of the city’s rental units would at least provide some useful indication of the magnitude of the problem. As council member Michael Lilliquist has observed, data collection is an appropriate step in responsive policymaking. Without data, policy is guesswork.

“We’ve been talking about this program for years,” Council veteran Gene Knutson observed. “We need to either approve something or move on.”

Council may select among three proposals later this summer.

In what might appear a pattern, City Council also nudged incrementally forward on another proposal that has also languished for many years, adding a public access component to the city’s government and educational programming on BTV10. Council authorized the mayor’s staff to prepare a plan that would permit public access programming on BTV10 on a trial basis.

In 2013, Mayor Kelli Linville made good on her pledge to seek bids for independent management of public access content, operated through cable franchise fee revenues; however, the city received only one bid that was found inadequate by a review panel.

Council and the administration have expressed great trepidation about government managing public portion of PEG broadcasting. Even assigning a time when such broadcasting might appear is a bias government should avoid, Council President Cathy Lehman noted.

“We have to start somewhere,” Knutson admitted. “We’ve been talking about this a long time, people have been asking about this for a long time.” Knutson said he had no fears of content produced by the public critical of Bellingham government. “Because that’s all that’s going to be on there,” he predicted.

In their deepest division, Council voted 4-to-3 to end the tax exemption PeaceHealth Saint Joseph Medical Center receives as a religious institution. In its place, the Catholic-affiliated hospital would join a much broader category of medical care providers, all of which qualify for medical care exemptions outlined in the state’s Business and Occupation Tax code policy.

Based on extensive public testimony, several council members expressed concerns—at times emotional—that increasing the tax burden of the city’s primary care center risks reducing the vital healthcare programs and services offered by PeaceHealth.

Under the proposed change, about 70 percent of the Medical Center’s care would remain tax exempt, that portion of care delivered by PeaceHealth that is supported and reimbursed through government programs like Medicaid and Medicare. The remainder is care supported by for-profit insurers, business that would be taxable under the proposal. That 30 percent would generate about $1.2 million in annual B&O tax receipts for the City of Bellingham.

The change creates equity for suppliers of medical care, Lilliquist said, because other care providers are also eligible for the same exemptions under the state’s tax code.

Council members admitted the absorption of even greater portions of formally for-profit medical care business by PeaceHealth prompted the change. The city forfeited $350,000 per year in tax revenue when the PeaceHealth juggernaut took over Madrona Medical in 2007 and North Cascade Cardiology in 2011.

Presumably the change better positions both the city and medical service providers to capture future changes in the delivery of medical care that may result from federal health care reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) passed by Congress in 2010. Forecasts suggest an increase in demand for routine medical care as millions of previously uninsured Americans seek coverage under ACA, with commensurate reduction in emergency hospital care. Expansion of Medicaid provided under the Act would remain tax exempt under the city’s proposed policy.

Ironically, council’s slow and methodical walking back of proposals—some decades old!—in search of deferential compromise has been met with a fair amount of public comment and criticism that the city is operating tyrannically, heedless of public opinion and process.

Sometimes you just can’t win for losing.

West Coast Wellness
Past Columns
Breached and Beached

May 10, 2017

The Calm Before the Storm

April 26, 2017

April Showers 2

April 19, 2017

April Showers

April 12, 2017

The Fix Flops

April 5, 2017

A Perfect Storm

March 29, 2017

Monopoly

March 15, 2017

Layers of Concern

March 8, 2017

The Fix Is In

March 1, 2017

Half Time

February 22, 2017

Washington v. Trump, 2

February 15, 2017

Washington v. Trump

February 8, 2017

Between East and West

February 1, 2017

Beachhead

January 25, 2017

Stormin’ ORMA

January 18, 2017

Stormwater Rising

January 11, 2017

Events
Today
Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

What-A-Sho!

7:00pm|Bellingham High School

Julius Caesar

7:30pm|Miller Hall

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Cornwall Park

Seconds Sale

10:00am|Good Earth Pottery

Seaweed Beach Ramble

10:00am|Living Earth Herbs

Book Trailers

12:30pm|Ferndale Library

Valley writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Sin & Gin Tours

4:00pm|Whatcom County Tourism

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Ski to Sea Block Party

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

WWU Orchestra

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Genre Legends

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Northwood Steak and Crab
Tomorrow
Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Julius Caesar

7:30pm|Miller Hall

Sin & Gin Tours

4:00pm|Whatcom County Tourism

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Genre Legends

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Lummi Island Artists Studio Tour

10:00am|Lummi Island

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Low Tide Picnic

11:30am|Marine Park

Stones Throw Block Party

12:00pm|Stones Throw Brewery

Blossomtime Parade

12:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Project Connection

1:00pm|East Whatcom Regional Resource Center

We Are WWU

6:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Northwood Steak and Crab
Sunday
BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Back to the basics

7:00am

Ski to Sea Race

7:00am|Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Fairhaven Festival

12:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Images of Resilience Farewell

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Audubon at the Museum

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|Majestic

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Northwood Steak and Crab Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove Lester and Hyldahl