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At its core, it's a great place to live, work, raise a family, and enjoy life—a core we must maintain!
Birch Bay is not a city. It's an Urban Growth Area, defined by Whatcom County as "an area designated, within which urban growth will be encouraged." So, it doesn't have its own local government. Instead, it falls under the jurisdiction of Whatcom County. County officials and departments from outside the Birch Bay area oversee all matters.
Birch Bay is also a area unique within Whatcom County, with its waterfront, recreational areas, tourists, large development requests, and booming population growth. This unique combination of features makes it difficult for decision-makers from outside Birch Bay to adequately represent, understand, and address Birch Bay's needs.
Municipal incorporation is the process of establishing a local government (new city) for a defined area and moves decision-making to locally elected people instead of a county-wide board. It grants the community the authority to self-govern, provide services, and make decisions on matters like policing, taxes, and community development.
Read more by visiting this link from The Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), a non-profit organization based in Seattle with a mission of "supporting effective local government in Washington through trusted consultation, research, training, and collaboration."
Incorporation allows communities to have more control over their governance and address local needs and priorities directly. Local decision-making, by people within an incorporated community, is better able to reflect a community's needs and wishes, and is more likely to safeguard its core qualities.
Local control can benefit access to services, community development, and heighten community identity.
An online poll was conducted by Birch Bay Community PAC in April 2023, inviting people from within the community to participate and share their thoughts. A total of 492 responses were gathered over the course of four weeks. 54.5% of respondents supported incorporation, while 16.5% expressed uncertainty, and 29.1% outright opposed the idea. Annexation to the City of Blaine was found to be deeply unpopular. These results reflect respondents' initial reactions, without access to current information about benefits and drawbacks of incorporation. However, the responses are useful in showing that a study providing such information is needed, and offer a sense of respondents' issues and concerns.
The primary motivations behind supporting incorporation were the desire for local control, enhanced representation, and improved services, particularly community planning and law enforcement. Increased taxes were a common and understandable concern. A feasibility study will be necessary to produce updated revenue projections and city operation cost estimates.
RCW 35.02.010 states that "Any contiguous area containing not less than one thousand five hundred inhabitants lying outside the limits of an incorporated city or town may become incorporated as a city."
The 2020 Census lists the population of Birch Bay Census Designated Place as 10,115. Birch Bay would instantly become the fourth largest city in Whatcom County, larger than Blaine, Everson, Nooksack, Sumas, and 504 other smaller cities across the state.
The 2008 Birch Bay Incorporation Feasibility Study states that “Yes. If Birch Bay residents pay the same level of taxes they would pay as part of unincorporated Whatcom County, a City of Birch Bay would generate enough revenues to provide a slightly higher level of service than Birch Bay residents currently receive.” (Page ES-2)
Additionally, "When one thinks about running a city, there are any number of costs that are to some extent fixed (i.e. costs that tend to change little with modest changes in city size). Whether the city has 5,000 or 8,000 residents, there will be only one City Manager, one Finance Director, one Planning Director, and one Comprehensive Plan. Given these built-in economies of scale, all else being equal, a larger city will find it easier to make ends meet than a smaller city." (Page ES-5)
In other words, it was financially feasible in 2008 when the population was 6,128 and should be more so now that our population is over 10,115. An updated feasibility study during the Boundary Review Board process should support these assumptions.
Taxes depend on the level of services that people want. In 2008, the Birch Bay Incorporation Feasibility Study stated that “If Birch Bay residents pay the same level of taxes they [pay to] Whatcom County, a City of Birch Bay would generate enough revenues to provide a slightly higher level of service than Birch Bay residents currently receive.” (Page ES-2) We believe that remains true today, but we want a new feasibility study to make sure.
However, if Birch Bay residents want more policing, better snow removal, more road maintenance, or increases in other services, then it may be that taxes would go up so that desired services could go up. Then again, some of the taxes we pay now are used in other parts of the County. A city of Birch Bay would receive those taxes, and that may cover desired increases in services. There's no way to know without a new feasibility study, which is what will be done before a formal vote on incorporation would occur. You will know the answer to this, along with how services would change, before voting "yes" or "no" on becoming a city.
So, the best answer we can give for now is that in 2008 a study showed we would get the same or slightly higher services without a tax increase, but a new study would give us current information.
Remember, however, as the 2008 study said, "When one thinks about running a city, there are any number of costs that are to some extent fixed (i.e. costs that tend to change little with modest changes in city size). Whether the city has 5,000 or 8,000 residents, there will be only one City Manager, one Finance Director, one Planning Director, and one Comprehensive Plan. Given these built-in economies of scale, all else being equal, a larger city will find it easier to make ends meet than a smaller city." (Page ES-5)
In other words, it was financially feasible in 2008 when the population was 6,128 and should be feasible now, given the same or slightly better services, when that our population is over 10,000. An updated feasibility study will clarify these assumptions.
We note also that taxes we pay now to the County do go up each year, but the level of services that Birch Bay receives does not meaningfully change. Not incorporating does not mean taxes won't go up.
Our taxes go to Whatcom County, where they are pooled with other unincorporated areas' taxes (such as Cherry Point, Custer and Deming). The Whatcom County Council then decides where and for what purposes to spend the pooled taxes.
In the most recently available (2023) tax year, Birch Bay paid approximately $5.4M to the County.
Municipal incorporation grants residents direct control over their tax dollars, local affairs, and representation through elected officials from within the community.
The 2008 Birch Bay Incorporation Feasibility Study assumes the following service adjustments. Unless a new feasibility study suggests a change, what follows is likely:
The above items' costs can be easily determined through a new feasibility study. Then, it would become clear whether recovering the taxes now paid to the County (that would then be paid to the city of Birch Bay), are enough to cover projected expenses.
The Municipal Incorporation Guide, offered by the MRSC, outlines the step-by-step process involved in establishing a new city. This multipart process typically begins with public polling, the formation of a committee, followed by documentation of support via a petition. If support is positive, a Boundary Review Board investigation and Feasibility Studies occur, followed eventually by a formal vote of the public.
The timeline for municipal incorporation can be challenging to predict precisely. The standard 120-day timeline for Boundary Review Board actions is often extended to accommodate the necessary studies, analysis, and public review processes. A timeline from the 2008 Birch Bay Incorporation Feasibility Study estimates 2.5 years to arrive at an election and up to an additional year to begin establishing city operations.
Considering the rapid growth of our community, and an increasing number of tax levies that may disproportionately affect Birch Bay, it's important that we quickly initiate formal information gathering through a feasibility study and, if results are favorable, move toward incorporation as soon as possible.
Yes, per RCW 35.02.078: "An election shall be held in the area proposed to be incorporated to determine whether the proposed city or town shall be incorporated when the boundary review board takes action on the proposal other than disapproving the proposal... Voters at this election shall determine if the area is to be incorporated. The initial election on the question of incorporation shall be held at the next special election date specified in RCW 29A.04.330 that occurs sixty or more days after the final public hearing by the county legislative authority or authorities, or action by the boundary review board or boards." Only legally-registered voters in Whatcom County who are full-time residents in the are to be incorporated are eligible to vote.
Yes! The purpose of our organization is to have all voices heard and represented, so that a feasibility study can take into account a broad range of concerns and wishes. While the final vote that would eventually appear on a formal November ballot would be by registered, Whatcom County voters who are full-time Birch Bay residents, the decision about whether or not to move forward will consider input from anyone who wants to be heard. This occurs through surveys, public meetings, and other ways that individuals can present thoughts and concerns to our committee.
Please come to our public meetings or send us an email to join and receive meeting notices, information, and calls for your input.
The Birch Bay Incorporation Feasibility Committee is committed to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to ensure that the process is transparent, inclusive, and respectful of community values.
Your continued input, involvement, petition signature, survey responses, and participation in public meetings are essential to our decision making.
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