Council approves 5% property tax increase; city decries hate speech during public comments

Councilmembers discuss the 2024 property tax levy increase.

Following numerous antisemitic and other racially charged public comments made during the Lynnwood City Council’s Monday, Nov. 27 business meeting, Communications and Public Affairs Manager Nathan McDonald said the city is working to prevent something like this from happening again.

“Public comment is meant for our community members to express their First Amendment rights,” he said. “Last night, that space was violated. The City of Lynnwood will not tolerate hate speech and strives to offer a space of inclusivity and equality. We are taking steps to improve our practices to prevent future incidents of this nature and ensure a welcoming environment for all.”

McDonald said similar instances have been happening in public forums across Western Washington and city staff will continue working to better prevent similar situations in the future.

Most councilmembers remained silent after the public comments were eventually stopped.

“Unfortunately, bigotry is alive and well in our area, it seems,” Councilmember George Hurst said.

After the public comment fiasco, councilmembers spent a lengthy amount of time discussing the 2024 property tax levy. During last week’s public hearing on the matter, Finance Director Michelle Meyer told the council the proposed levy would increase property taxes by 22% — or $1 million.

The steep increase, she said, is due to councilmembers voting last year not to increase rates at all, causing the city to fall behind its expected rates. Now, the proposed levy would jump from $4.5 million to $5.5 million to catch up from the stagnant rates in 2023.

No one spoke in favor of the increase during the public hearing, and many councilmembers said they wanted to listen to what Lynnwood residents had to say. Like he did last year, Councilmember Jim Smith made a motion to keep the property tax levy the same, at $4.5 million, rather than increasing it in the coming year.

Not all councilmembers felt that Smith’s proposal was the smartest decision for the city, especially because of inflation. Another concern of councilmembers: Deciding not to increase property taxes would cause a budget deficit, causing even more problems in other departments.

Hurst said he felt comfortable with a much smaller increase, like 5%, rather than an almost 25% increase. This would raise the total property tax levy to $4,725,000. However, he did not feel comfortable leaving the rate at $4.5 million for another year in a row.

“If we keep continually falling behind, just based on inflation, we are setting ourselves up for a big deficit,” Hurst said.

Hurst said he felt that a more moderate increase just to cover inflation would be much more beneficial both for the city and for its residents. Decker agreed with Hurst’s proposal.

Councilmember Josh Binda said as a potential homeowner within the next few years, he doesn’t like the thought of having to pay higher property taxes either. However, he said, it seems necessary for the benefit of the city as a whole.

“I don’t think it would be smart to add another layer of money that’s [going to be] missing from the budget,” he said. “Am I a fan of the increase? No. But am I looking long term in the future of our city, in the future of what needs to happen in our community and the plans that we want to do for our community and know that this is what’s in the best interest … ? I can say that yes, I think this is. It’s inevitable. Whether it’s going to happen this time, next time, it will happen.

“Instead of peeling the bandaid off and delaying the inevitable, we should make a decision now and find more ways going forward to lessen the amount of taxation on our community,” he added.

Smith then moved to amend his original motion to instead increase the property tax levy by 5%.

When this amendment went into discussion, Binda asked Meyer for the specific average dollar amount that property taxes would increase. Meyer said that for the average Lynnwood home costing roughly $643,000, the annual cost with a 22% property tax levy increase would go up by $58. If the amendment passed for only a 5% increase, the average cost would be $11 per year.

“I just hope we can look past the percentage amount here for a second and actually look at the dollar amount,” Binda said. “The increase is $58 per year to help our budget and move the city forward. If anyone is $58 away from the poverty line, then that’s a bigger problem as a city, what we do for our community, than it is about property taxes.”

Smith’s amendment passed, with Sessions and Binda voting no. The amended motion passed unanimously, raising the 2024 property tax levy to $4,725,000.

In other business, councilmembers voted 6-1 to approve the Comprehensive Plan amendment allowing the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) to rezone its Timberglen and Pinewood properties from medium to high density.

Senior Planner Katherine Kato told the council that while medium-density housing has a 35-foot height limit for buildings, high-density housing properties do not have height restrictions, allowing HASCO to build taller apartment complexes if they desire. 

Council President Shannon Sessions voiced her favor of the amendment, saying that while there are already apartment complexes on the property, they desperately need to be replaced before they become more of a safety hazard to those living in and around them.

“There’s already an apartment complex on this site that is in dire straits,” she said.

However, not all councilmembers agreed with her, with some voicing concerns about the congestion generated by more apartment units. Councilmember Patrick Decker said he is also worried about the increase in crime. Studies have shown, he said, that more housing means more crime, and he is worried about the decision’s impact on the Lynnwood Police Department.

“When your population density goes up, you have higher crime rates,” he said.

Councilmember Jim Smith reminded the council that they recently doubled the city center’s allowed number of housing units, which haven’t even been built yet. Now, he asked councilmembers why they were considering adding even more units.

“We are doing too much to destroy the livability in the city of Lynnwood,” Smith said.

However, Sessions reminded the council that there are already apartment complexes on these properties, and creating safer structures while adding a few more units is not likely to impact on traffic and law enforcement.

The motion to allow HASCO to rezone the properties passed 6-1, with Smith voting against it.

In other business, the council tabled a decision to hire an external auditor for assistance regarding the upcoming biennial budget until more information is brought forward, and also approved Kalen Knowles as the city’s newest arts commission member.

–By Lauren Reichenbach

  1. Be careful with controlling speech. It is a very thin tightrope public servants have to walk to ensure that every citizen’s right to speak is protected, while not allowing people to use public meetings to spread their hate.
    From the report on the KIRO7 website, when a similar thing happened in Tacoma, they shut down public comment for the night. I don’t think that was the right idea.
    Nowadays, unfortunately, some people have to be specifically told what the rules are to participate in a public forum, otherwise they feign ignorance of social norms. Lynnwood Council should create clear language about what is and is not permitted during a meeting, and what the negative consequences will be for those who violate the policies.
    We citizens need to be involved in the creation of those rules as well.
    Nothing I’ve written should be shocking to anyone.
    Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.