Four of the five members of the Clark County Council penned a letter to Washington Governor Jay Inslee this week urging him to rule that all construction be designated as “essential” business under his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” COVID-19 orders.
The Clark County Council is part of a larger movement from many entities, including the cities of Ridgefield and Lynden, and legislators Dan Newhouse and Kathy McMorris Rodgers, urging Washington Governor Jay Inslee to include residential construction as “essential” under the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” directive. They say Inslee’s emergency powers directive went too far. Washington is only one of two states with similar “shelter in place” orders that designate private construction as “non-essential.” The Department of Homeland Security also officially designates construction as “essential.”
Clark County Council Chair, Eileen Quiring, along with three of her four council colleagues — Julie Olson, John Blom and Gary Medvigy, are very concerned about the severely damaging economic effects of Inslee’s order. Councilor Temple Lentz disagrees with her colleagues.
“I’m not sure what his thinking is entirely,” said Quiring. ”He says this is about safety. How is it we can allow public construction or low income housing to go on and not private construction? How much safer are they? All of our builders have to follow OSHA rules. Clark County will be hurt especially given we have more than 15,000 people employed in the construction industry. Think about the people buying homes that were just about completed and are now without a place to go. I hope the Governor is listening because this is ludicrous. It will take us a long time to recover.”
Quiring said the state is losing $23 million a day for every day of work stoppage. Clark County is especially hit hard, with more than 15,000 people employed in construction-related jobs. Construction accounts for about 25 percent of sales tax revenue in Clark County. The council says the county is losing $4.2 million in revenue per week.
In the letter, the councilors say “the near complete shutdown of our construction industry and the loss of revenue in Clark County is dire.”
The city of Lynden has defied the order altogether, allowing construction business to resume. City Administrator Mike Marin released a letter yesterday encouraging construction projects to continue unimpeded despite the executive order.
In an open letter, Marin said the city’s policy is to “rely on the good judgment of the building community to keep its workers safe, and to ensure that any member of the public in the vicinity of a project is likewise kept safe.”
He also called for physical distancing and other “common-sense practices.”
Ridgefield amended the executive order to allow pre-sold and partially erected homes to be completed.
Dear Governor Inslee,
During this time of crisis, we all respect the difficult decisions you have to make for the common good of all Washingtonians. We are urging further refinement of your guidance for essential construction throughout the state, but will focus on Clark County. We are advocating that you deem all housing presently under construction and all commercial construction near completion to be deemed essential in much the same way Oregon and California have.
We respect and trust that all builders, unions, skilled and unskilled labor in all trades are using best practices and protocols of social distancing to minimize the risks from COVID-19 to our workforce and community. There has been no specific outbreak attributed to the building industry in the private or public sector, in part, because they remain focused on OSHA standards, health and safety at the work place more so than the public at large. We believe that our hard-working construction industry, using best health and safety practices, would rather be working than furloughed and on unemployment. Please allow them back to work.
We believe the breadth of the current order will create far more devastation to our economy in Clark County, because of our more severe housing shortage as one of the fastest growing areas in the state. This shortage contributes to high costs and increasing homelessness. Our county budget is aggravated here more than anywhere in the state due to sales tax leakage to Oregon, causing a structural deficit from the loss of approximately 25% of sales tax revenue. Approximately 35% of the County’s sales tax has come from construction related activities. In 2019, our General Fund received $43.0M in sales tax or $15.0 million sales tax generated by construction activity alone. The near complete shut-down of our construction industry and loss of revenue in Clark County is dire.
An unusually large segment of Clark County’s economy is based on the construction industry, equating to approximately 15,600 jobs. In Washington State the economic impact is about $8.4B per year, or $23M per day. Our best estimates in Clark County based on our population and construction jobs would amount to 10% of those state numbers.
The annual statewide tax revenue, for state and local governments, is around $2.2B. Proportioned to Clark County, this is around $4.2M per week in Clark County alone in tax revenue lost to the state and county for every week a broad building moratorium remains in place.
In addition, spoilage is now becoming a significant problem with the weather and increased theft occurring. Although, your present order allows for protecting construction, ‘shear inspections’ need to be done before a structure can be weathered-in and those can’t be conducted all at once throughout the county with the current constraints. OSB board, for example can only be in the weather for no more than 60 days, before deterioration, and mold set in. Our local contractors will go where the work is and that is next door to Oregon. Once, construction resumes here, the work force will not be available for our job sites. We will be facing an ever increasing percentage of spoilage as a result.
The dire need for housing and the continuation of essential construction and trade jobs in our county cries out for refinement of the previous orders. We all understand that all decisions should be ‘conditions based’ and those change daily with many unknowns. But we are focusing on what is known. Families are waiting to move into their nearly completed homes. We respectfully request that essential business be further defined to include residential housing under construction and commercial construction that is near completion.
Eileen Quiring, Chair
Julie Olson, District 2
John Blom, District 3
Gary Medvigy, District 4