I commenced my tenure as County Executive with some goals in mind. I wanted to improve our information technology platforms, as I felt that we were behind the times and that our citizens deserved better. We’ve completed a phone-system replacement, have a new website platform, and are getting close to finishing our land records and criminal justice data-information systems.
The last big piece of the puzzle is replacing the financial system, and I’m pleased that we have the money set aside to accomplish that task. We have spent millions on these upgrades, but the payoff is in a more efficient government serving you.
We didn’t build a new Justice Center. Instead, we are now spending millions fixing the inadequate and outdated one we have. In the long run, the most humane course of action is to build a new jail and I hope that will become a priority for the new administration and our County Council.
I can point to other successes of my two terms: We established a Mental-Health Court, added a fourth Superior Court judge that resulted in adding a fourth courtroom; and we purchased the State Street building that houses the Health Department and completed a substantial exterior remodel of the Civic Building. We are currently repairing the Courthouse, a long-overdue project. With our partners, we resolved the longstanding issues related to EMS, found a compromise in paying for solutions related to Lake Whatcom, and have updated our comprehensive land-use plan with the cities.
Future challenges the county faces are in several areas, most notably:
- Infrastructure (Maintenance and Operations): Revamping old buildings, finding solutions for housing county offices and services, and keeping up with the aging infrastructure of our roads, parks, and buildings.
- Water/Environmental Concerns: Continuing to find the balance between what is needed for growth and how to provide that in the arena of greater concerns for our environmental health.
- Housing/Homelessness/Addiction/Mental Health: Finding solutions and funding for these major issues, along with creating partnerships that make sense.
- Regulations: Keeping county laws streamlined, enforceable, and common-sense based.
- Funding: Maintaining a strong funding base, allowing for reserves to solve issues such as a justice center or office buildings.
- The underlying message: Whatcom County government continues to improve and update roads, bridges, parks, and facilities, streamline services for citizens, and remain responsive to new issues that arise.
I’d like to thank our engaged staff, citizens, and council for their ongoing enthusiasm, intelligence, and support while we negotiate our programs and make decisions about our collective future. We are blessed to have in our county many people who volunteer to be on boards and commissions that provide direct advice and assistance to us in county government. I applaud that public service. It is so important to us, and I encourage others to be a part of it.
It has been my honor to be your County Executive. The job is not without challenges and frustrations at times. But every time I receive an email from a constituent telling me a county employee helped them achieve a goal, when I see service improvements, our robust website, or our customer service focus, I’m encouraged. When I see agencies come together to solve an issue that impacts the lives of the underserved in our communities, I am hopeful.
I wish you well and will, of course, continue to focus on our goals for 2019. I commit to ensuring a smooth transition for County government in January. Although my years of service are short in the long history of Whatcom County, I feel thankful to have been a part of it.
Jack Louws has served as Whatcom County Executive since January 2012. His second term ends Dec. 31, and he didn’t run for re-election.