Council considers speeding fine increase, hears waste management options

At its Feb. 6 work session, the Lynnwood City Council considered two proposed ordinances from the Lynnwood Police Department and heard a plan from the city’s public works department to address challenges at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Councilmembers also discussed Lynnwood’s agreement with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) to see if any updates were needed, since the agreement was signed 28 years ago. 

Police Chief Jim Nelson proposed one ordinance that would raise the fees for photo-enforced traffic tickets and another that would prohibit using dangerous drugs in public.

Police Chief Jim Nelson

After a presentation about the city’s traffic tickets, Nelson explained that Lynnwood’s current fines are less than those allowed by state law, so people receive contradicting and confusing information when reading their citation paperwork. The city’s current ordinance lists specific infraction amounts but provides room for updates. However, fine amounts do not change automatically because of the way that the city’s code is written. To remedy this, Nelson presented two options to the council, both of which result in higher fees for violators. 

The first option is to change the ordinance’s language so that the city uses whatever the state’s current fines are. The second option is to maintain the current ordinance, with staff returning to the council each time the state changes its fees, to ensure consistency. 

Fine recommendations for photo-enforced tickets when speeding a school zone

Additionally, Nelson proposed that the city add a $25 “traffic safety” fee to each violation. Over 80% of speeding tickets are issued to non-residents, so the majority of that money would be collected from those who don’t live in the city. Since the police department’s five-person traffic section is robust for a city of about 40,000 residents. the new fee would mean that that violators, mainly non-residents. would fund the city’s traffic section.

Lynnwood PD statistics on the distribution of red-light tickets issued by photo-enforcement. Councilmember Jim Smith raised the idea of scaling fees depending on the number of violations. First-time violators, for example, could be charged $35-$50.  

“If I had it my way, if you’re so stupid that, after you get your first fine [and] you do it again within a year or two or three, $750-$1000,” Smith said. Nelson stated that this would not be possible as when a ticket is issued through photo enforcement, the maximum amount a person can be charged is $450. 

Lynnwood City Council and Lynnwood PD discuss new ordinances

Similar to parking tickets, photo-enforced tickets do not stay on a driver’s record, so it also would not be possible to track offenses, Nelson added.

Right now, photo-enforced speeding tickets in Lynnwood school zones are $124 when speeds are 6-15 mph over the limit and $250 when speeding over 16 mph.

Fine recommendations for photo-enforced tickets when speeding a school zone

 Under state law, school zone speeding tickets issued by a police officer exceed the amount that Lynnwood can charge via photo enforcement. Because police can’t exceed a certain amount for photo-enforced tickets, the department recommended that Lynnwood mirror the first four ranges in Washington state law so the fees were scaled down.

Council President Shannon Sessions reminded those watching the meeting that the city has been gracious with its ticketing leniency in the past. Because a ticket issued from an officer would be far higher and photo-enforced tickets don’t factor into insurance, the proposition to reference fines according to state law seemed fair, she added.

Councilmembers Patrick Decker and Jim Smith

Councilmember Patrick Decker said that “I wouldn’t put it past the state to, for lack of better term, decriminalize some things that we think need to be enforced or to, in a dramatic way, lessen the fines related to these… If I were sure that the state [ticketing fees] were only ever going to go up, then I would have more confidence,”

Nelson’s second ordinance recommendation was one that would prohibit the use of dangerous drugs in public. The Washington State Supreme Court’s Blake decision decriminalized the possession of controlled substances. The decision created a hole in Washington law that allowed people to use drugs in public, as police are no longer able to arrest offenders. As a result, Nelson said, police have seen an increase in public drug use. 

Under Nelson’s proposal, Lynnwood police officers would have jurisdiction to arrest people for such drug use. In this instance, “using drugs in public” is defined as visibly using them, which includes being visible through a window. Responding to a question from Decker, Nelson stated that smells did not count since “smells are not a crime.” The ordinance would also prohibit disposing of controlled substances on the ground or in any body of water.

After arrest, police protocol would then “strongly encourage” the officer to refer the person to drug-diversion programs, Nelson said. In the event that the services were declined or not offered, the arrestee would be charged with a misdemeanor. Nelson stated that the proposal was not introduced in an effort to fill the jail, but to redirect people in need of services and address open-air drug usage. 

Sessions called the ordinance the “best of both worlds” as it addressed both the public usage concern and redirected people suffering from addiction to programs that may assist them.

In other business, Public Works Director Bill Franz talked about the need to replace the aging sludge incinerator at Lynnwood’s wastewater treatment plant. He began the presentation with a thorough explanation of how the wastewater treatment plant works. When wastewater is sent to the plant, the waste that is removed becomes sludge, which is incinerated after a long drying process.

Director Bill Franz and Deputy Director Jared Bond talk about the wastewater treatment plant

Lynnwood’s incinerator is taking in less sludge than it needs to for the system to work effectively, and the sludge that it does take in is wetter. When the system is unable to incinerate waste at the correct pace, the sludge builds up and compounds the problem. The system’s purifiers recently experienced a “crisis week” wherein three of four purifiers broke down due to excessive sludge, Franz explained. At one point, several tons of excess sludge that accumulated over one week had to be removed and hauled to a Renton facility at the cost of about $100,000. 

While wastewater plant workers came up with a temporary fix, staff have been researching acquisition of a new system that wouldn’t require incineration and would allow the city to recycle the filtered waste for agricultural use, Franz said. The cost of the new system has not yet been determined.

Deputy Public Works Director Marcie MacQuarrie then made a presentation that follows up on an ongoing council conversation about switching solid waste haulers. Lynnwood has been part of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) tariff system since 1959, which means the city does not currently manage its own contract to provide garbage, yard waste and recycling services. Instead, the WUTC provides certificated haulers for the city. Under the current arrangement, Lynnwood is facing customer service issues, lack of solutions for poor hauler performance and has no input on rates or rate structure, MacQuarrie said.

She went on to state the possible benefits of shopping around for a new provider, including rate structure input to provide discounts for disabled/low-income/senior residents, more city control, more recycling programs and better customer service.

Director Bill Franz and Deputy Director Marcie MacQuarrie

Public works asked the council to approve the start of a seven-year process to evaluate Lynnwood’s solid waste services. To begin, the city would poll the public for its thoughts about waste management and what it values in trash collection. Using this information, the council could decide if changing providers would be beneficial for the community and if it is, they have ample time to decide on a hauler. 

When it came time to discuss the city’s contract with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County, councilmembers did not determine any specific changes that they would like to address yet. Councilmembers noted the impact that the ongoing 2023 legislative session could have on any future housing plans and concluded that a conversation in the future would be more productive. 

Sessions reminded councilmembers that next week’s work session on Feb. 15 is canceled because the majority of the council will be in Olympia and cannot be present.

–By Jasmine Contreras-Lewis

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