A Challenging Year and Looking Ahead
The State of the City 2021
By Mayor Greg Hansen
Remembering a single day can bring the distance of a year into focus. It was at the second council meeting in March, only my sixth meeting since being sworn in as the Mayor of Ferndale, when we received notice from the Governor that we were going into a statewide lockdown. In a single moment, the course of our city changed.
Ferndale did what we had to do. We buckled down, wore our masks, shifted to remote work where we could and tried to flatten the curve, but as the weeks stretched into months and we experienced spike after contagious spike, it was clear that this was a marathon, not a sprint.
Even as we were still comprehending the scope of the pandemic came the second blow – the curtailment of Alcoa. The smelter had put food on the table for three generations of Ferndale families and it leaves a big hole in our hearts.
I had expected to spend my first year in the Mayor’s office working on revitalizing our downtown, working on plans for a new city campus or celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Old Settlers Picnic.
We do not get to choose the times in which we live, only how we respond to the moment of crisis. In this, know that we have incredible public servants working around the clock on behalf of our city. City staff got right to work solving problems, building bridges and leveraging our relationships with our community partners to meet the moment head on. From the school district to the port, our local businesses to our non-profits, everyone put their heads together to tackle this crisis.
We developed COVID safe construction standards to allow private and public projects in Ferndale to safely resume work ahead of the rest of the state. We secured over $294,000 in grants for Ferndale businesses and organizations. We worked with the Ferndale Community Resource Center to help with utility bills and even made our own Variety Show with the Old Settlers Association to help celebrate their anniversary.
All of this while never losing sight of our long-term goals. We continued critical investments in our infrastructure, including significant progress on the Thornton Overpass and the Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion. Housing construction remained strong throughout 2020 and into the new year.
As we turn our eyes to the future, the question remains: what is the state of the City of Ferndale? From a city budget perspective, we are in a better position than many of our neighboring small cities. Ferndale always struggled to generate retail sales taxes, a critical component of city budget, but the shift to online purchases has brought in a corresponding boost in city revenues. That said, a city cannot sustain itself without our locally owned businesses, they are more than just a budget line item, they are jobs, community touchstones and that which gives us our identity. Please do what you can to support our local businesses during this difficult time.
With the sudden influx of sales tax and the constant stream of construction activity in Ferndale, our city budget is steady for 2021 although we are being cautious about the future. As Anthony Bourdain said, “Luck is not a business model.” And for those of you put out of work by the Alcoa curtailment or the impacts of COVID, this is small comfort.
We are continuing our work to ensure there is a path, not just back to normal, but to a brighter and better Ferndale. We are investing in our public spaces – a new bathroom in VanderYacht Park, a Picnic Shelter in Star Park and, if the state legislature approves our grant, a new Skate Park in Pioneer Park. These public facilities provide opportunities for community events, safe places to recreate and create local construction jobs.
We are looking ahead at long-term solutions before they become home-grown disasters. Next month, council will consider placing an affordable housing measure on the ballot this November which would provide much needed matching funds to build affordable units right here in our city for Ferndale residents. This approach, coupled with improvements to our zoning, infrastructure, an emphasis on housing above commercial uses within the Downtown core allows us to tackle the housing crisis on multiple fronts. One only need look at the crisis unfolding in front of the Bellingham City Hall lawn to know that we cannot wait to tackle the housing crisis – we need to take the steps today to help people stay in their homes.
In that vein, we are committing the resources to get several road projects shovel ready, including Ferndale Terrace and connecting the Thornton Overpass to our neighborhoods on the hill. This will allow us to capitalize on infrastructure grants put out by the state and federal government to bring those dollars home to our town and fix a few potholes while we are doing it. The City has been aggressive in informing our representatives in Olympia and Washington DC of infrastructure needs, so that we are well-positioned as a City should infrastructure stimulus bills be adopted.
This last year has been a learning experience, and I do not want it to go to waste. We will expand on the communication tools we have mastered during the pandemic to allow more transparency and better access to your government, whether that is streaming a live video of your council meeting or interactive surveys allowing you to provide instant feedback on city decisions.
Finally, we will be working to support our signature Ferndale events – our Pioneer Days, Street Festival and Summer of Fun, to ensure that they last for the next generation. They will require all of us to step up – volunteer, sponsor and participate if we want to keep them running strong.
I still have those big plans from the start of my term sitting in my office. We will still need a new city campus with a courthouse and council chambers that can meet our needs going into the future, and I look forward to that day where I can walk past our new catalyst buildings in downtown Ferndale, enjoy a hot dog at Pioneer Days or drive over the Thornton Overpass on my way through the City.
Those days are not far in the distance, they are just around the corner.