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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.

Ticket Cascadia
Past Columns
A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Closing a Circle

June 8, 2016

Roads to Nowhere

May 25, 2016

Trails versus Jail

May 18, 2016

‘We Draw The Line’

May 11, 2016

Four, or Forever

May 4, 2016

Five Favor Five

April 27, 2016

Ag Gag

April 20, 2016

State of the County

April 13, 2016

Events
Today
5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Barbecues and Beach Parties

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

Final Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Doubles

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Sedro Car Show

9:00am|United General Fitness Center

Wondermud

10:00am|Bellingham BMX

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Discover Birch Bay Days

10:00am|Birch Bay Drive

Island Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Improv for Kids

10:30am|Improv Playworks

Fidalgo Bay Day

11:00am|Fidalgo Bay Resort

A Swinging Weekend

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Holly Street History Tour

1:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

This Old House

2:00pm|Point Roberts Community Center

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Drinking for Dogs

4:00pm|Green Frog Acoustic Tavern

Downtown Throwdown

4:00pm|Public Market

Scary Monster & the Super Creeps

5:00pm|Heart of Anacortes

Toys for Tots Benefit Concert

5:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Moonlight in Margaritaville

5:30pm|Maple Hall

An Evening with Ann Morris

7:30pm| Lummi Island Library

Circus on the Water

8:00pm|Lookout Arts Quarry and Boundary Bay Brewery

5 Point Film Festival Swinomish 2016
Tomorrow
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Discover Birch Bay Days

10:00am|Birch Bay Drive

A Swinging Weekend

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Chuckanut Classic

6:30am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Veterans Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Run to Fight Blindness

9:00am|Cascadia Eye

Marsh Mucking

10:00am|Tennant Lake Interpretive Center

Anacortes Open Streets

11:00am|Commercial Avenue

International Concert Series Finale

2:00pm|Peace Arch Provincial Park

Cirque Literary Journal Reading

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Chuckanut Writers Info Session

4:00pm|Village Books,

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

5 Point Film Festival Northwood Steak and Crab
Monday
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

We Grow Market

3:00pm|Northwest Youth Services

Music Enrichment Project Meet and Greet

4:00pm|Piper Music

Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books

Get Out More Tour

7:30pm|Backcountry Essentials

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

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