City Council continues discussion about county’s proposed tax increase to fund affordable housing

Lynnwood City Council President George Hurst (top left) discusses the Snohomish County Council’s plans to impose a countywide 0.1% sales tax increase.

As Snohomish County officials prepare for a vote next week on whether to raise sales tax by 0.1% to fund affordable housing countywide, the Lynnwood City Council Monday night discussed ways to prevent an increase to the city’s already high tax.

Last week, the Snohomish County Council introduced a plan to raise the countywide sales tax rate to pay for additional affordable housing units. With the funds, county officials estimate they can more than double the number of new affordable units in the next five years.

A public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 15 to allow for community input, but residents will not be able to vote on the matter. The county council is set to vote on the measure after the hearing. 

Last month, the city council sent a letter to the county council explaining why Lynnwood opposes the measure, noting that the city’s 10.5% sales tax is already one of the highest in the state. However, with three of the five county councilmembers in support of the proposal, City Council President George Hurst said Monday night it seems likely the new tax will be approved.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time,” Hurst said. “If they act on Dec. 15, it’s going to happen and we’re going to have a sales tax increase in Lynnwood.”

Based on similar tax rates, Hurst estimated that the new tax will generate up to $2.8 million a year, which will be collected by the county. He also pointed out that the county passed a similar 0.1% chemical dependency and mental health sales tax in 2009 and the city is unsure how those funds have been spent.

During the discussion, Hurst proposed the city council vote to increase the city’s own tax and then keep the funds in Lynnwood to fund affordable housing. He also suggested that councilmembers sign a letter from Snohomish County District 1 Councilmember Nate Nehring – who opposes the tax – proposing that the tax be voted on by the public.

“It’s up to us to say it’s not a great time for us,” he said. “It’s pushing us to decide something quickly that we don’t want to decide quickly.”

Hurst then asked for other councilmembers’ opinions. Councilmember Shannon Sessions said she was opposed to the city council voting to raise taxes.

“I think we let the county council do what they’re going to do,” she said. “Then, we do our best to hold the county council responsible for the funds and make sure they answer to this council and the City of Lynnwood on how those funds are used.”

Additionally, Councilmember Ruth Ross said that just because the government finds itself in a position to raise taxes doesn’t mean it should. She also said she opposed the city council increasing the tax.

“If the county wants to have that in their bag and have that be their legacy, I’m alright with that but I don’t think it should be ours,” she said.

Hurst said that between 2017-21 the city received just over $37,000 from the mental health and chemical dependency tax for the Lynnwood Senior Center and First Responder Flex Funds. Councilmember Christine Frizzell agreed information about the tax revenue should be easily accessible and that the county should be transparent about the funds.

“I can’t speak for the county council, obviously, but there’s no one that I know of that wants a sales tax increase when we don’t know where the money is going to go,” she said. 

Frizzell – who was recently elected mayor – said she would be writing her own letter to the county council asking that Lynnwood have more representation at the county level. According to Frizzell, Lynnwood generates the third-most sales tax revenue in the county behind unincorporated Snohomish County and Everett.

“I think that dollars talk and if we’re going to be part of that equation in such a large way, I would like to see some representation specifically for Lynnwood,” she said.

Council Vice President Jim Smith said the tax was not well thought out because there was very little description about it. He also said that fixing homelessness was more than putting a roof over someone’s head.

“We need to be doing more, especially the county and the state in order to help people help themselves and that’s not been happening from what I can see,” he said.

In other business, the council reviewed proposed changes to the city codes regarding requirements for boards and commissions. One change would require board and commission meetings to be recorded. The council is also proposing that board and commission meeting minutes be posted online within two weeks after the meeting.

The most-discussed change would require each board and commission member to be a registered voter, with the exception of up to one member who cannot register to vote for whatever reason. Another exemption would be for those not currently living within city limits. Councilmember Sessions said an example of this would be historians who serve on the city’s History and Heritage Board but no longer live in Lynnwood.

The council also reviewed proposed changes to the council’s rules, which Vice President Smith said included “fine tuning” language.

Also during the meeting, the council reviewed a draft ordinance authorizing the city to provide for the issuance, sale and delivery of limited tax general obligation and refunding bonds not to exceed $25.8 million. According to the draft ordinance, bonds would be used to provide funds to finance the Community Justice Center project and other capital improvements.

–By Cody Sexton

  1. No more taxes. Tax revenue has been increasing, but taxpayers are being hit with inflation. We do nat need local government taking more money out of our family income when we are facing increasing prices.

    1. At 10.6 it’s the highest in the state Everett is 3 times bigger but at 9.9. Why should I as a consumer have to fund affordable housing. It’s not right and not fare. You actually are making us poor and unable to pay for the things we need. And you literally have no oversight for the money your collecting. You are buying property and renting it out on our taxes your getting rich while we struggle. Shame on you.

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