Council debates city’s proposed 2023 salary schedule, hears plans for rebranded convention center

Lynnwood Finance Director Michelle Meyer discusses the city’s 2023 salary schedule.

The Lynnwood City Council at its Monday, Dec. 5, business meeting spent a majority of its time discussing the city’s 2023 salary schedule and the 2023-24 biennial budget.

The salary schedule – which was introduced to the council at its Nov. 21 meeting – includes considerable raises for some city directors, and a few councilmembers voiced concerns about that.

The council was set to vote on the salary schedule at its Nov. 28 meeting, but councilmembers unanimously approved a motion by Councilmember Patrick Decker to postpone the decision until council had more time to discuss the wage increases.

Earlier this year, the city hired Cabot Dow Associates to conduct a salary survey, which helped guide some of the adjustments in the proposed salary schedule. Cabot Dow – founder and president – as well as consultant Alex Sheeks joined the council Monday night to discuss how the company came to these conclusions for the salary schedule.

Sheeks explained that the company had a set list of cities similar to Lynnwood that it focused on. Staff looked at job descriptions and salaries from those cities and compared them to similar job positions that Lynnwood has. From there, Dow’s staff examined the highest and lowest salaries offered for each job and came up with a reasonable salary median, offering those suggestions to Lynnwood staff.

“We provided that information to city staff as they were developing the budget for this year so they could use that and view that going forward,” Sheeks said. “The city is, for the most part, within market for its positions, [aside from] a couple positions here and there that are significantly below the market or significantly above the market.”

Councilmember Shannon Sessions asked staff what the reasoning was for increasing every city director’s salary to the same pay, regardless of their differing levels of responsibility and job experience – a topic that was heavily discussed during the council’s Nov. 21 meeting.

Lynnwood Finance Director Michelle Meyer told the council that this decision was not made recently and was actually put into effect under previous Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith at the end of 2021 for the city’s 2022 salary schedule. According to the former mayor, the disparity in pay was the result of an equity issue that needed to be resolved.

Lynnwood Human Resources Director Evan Chinn said that while he was not part of the conversations regarding the former mayor’s decision, he did understand her point of view and further explained to councilmembers the reasoning behind that decision.

“That was Mayor Smith’s decision,” Chinn said. “Full transparency, I cut myself completely out of those discussions. It would have been completely inappropriate for me to be in those discussions with the mayor since my salary was involved. That was her decision. But I think there are reasons to have directors at the same level in terms of flattening out the hierarchy. I think all of us directors have a seat at the table and bring something different to the table in terms of our work function.”

Some councilmembers still felt at odds with the decision to level every director’s pay despite varying job requirements.

“Equity to me means that we’re paying women the same rate we’re paying men for the same job they’re doing,” Sessions said. “But if one of those two people have less responsibility, less job experience and less staff they’re managing, they shouldn’t get paid as much as the other one, regardless of who they are.”

Councilmembers Decker and Jim Smith agreed with Sessions, saying the definition of “equity” seemed to be used loosely in the situation.

Decker also voiced his unhappiness with the inconsistencies within the schedule from the high end to the low end.

“We are paying a whole lot for the people at the top and we seem to be underpaying … those positions at the bottom,” he said.

Other councilmembers questioned the salary rates at the lowest end of the salary schedule.

“I cannot believe that we still have employees making $15 an hour,” Altamirano-Crosby said. “What about them? And the ones that make $18 an hour: What about them? Nobody has spoken about that. Based on equity, we should look at that. Right now, in our environment that we live in and the increase in prices, how can these employees make it? And I’m hearing comments saying, ‘Yes, we want our employees to make a good living.’ Right? Then I’d like for us to focus on these employees.”

In addition, the council discussed the city’s 2023-24 biennial budget. The council received multiple department presentations over the course of October and spent its November meetings discussing changes councilmembers want staff to make before they vote on the final version.

Meyer reminded the council that Dec. 12 is the last scheduled council meeting of the year. If councilmembers don’t adopt the budget then, they will have to schedule a special meeting before Jan. 1 as the budget legally must be adopted before the end of the year.

Sessions said she wants to see three things amended in the budget before she will vote on it: the addition of four new custody officer positions, IT funding for the Lynnwood Municipal Court and a safety package for the city’s IT department.

Council President George Hurst said he wants to see $2 million transferred from the Transportation Benefit District fund to the street operations fund before he will vote yes on the budget.

The council also received a presentation from the city’s public facilities department regarding its district master plan improvements. Janet Pope, executive director of the Lynnwood Public Facilities District, announced to the council that the Lynnwood Convention Center would be officially changing its name on Dec. 14 to the Lynnwood Event Center along with the unveiling of a new logo.

Pope said the idea behind the name change was one of inclusivity. The word “convention” had more of a limiting connotation to residents who weren’t aware of all of the amenities the LCC provided. However, by changing the name to the Event Center, interested parties may be more likely to stop in and learn about the facility.

“This is an inclusive place for our community for those signature events that we’re really trying to develop,” Pope said. “So we asked: How is our master plan going to support that growth to make the event center what it really needs to be?”

The proposed event center will also be bringing new amenities to the City of Lynnwood. The 13-acre parking lot surrounding the current convention center will become a bustling gathering point in City Center, Pope said.

She said the size of the current convention center will double, creating new spaces for events, concerts and gatherings. 

“This includes a 1,200-seat entertainment space using new technology to accommodate multiple entertainment formats through flat-floor and raised-seat options,” Pope said.

There will be a public outdoor area that can be privatized for special events such as weddings or meetings. A new full-service hotel will be constructed on the property as well as 300 new housing units to help mitigate the city’s housing shortage. Rooftop restaurants are planned for the top of the hotel to take advantage of the sweeping mountain views Lynnwood has to offer.

When councilmembers brought up concerns about the already-present issue of the lack of parking in City Center, Pope quickly reassured them that parking would be provided. Both the hotel and housing units will have their own parking areas, and a parking garage will also be constructed on the property. Now, instead of a meager 140 parking spaces, there will be 600 of them. 

At this point, Pope said staff have completed the conceptual phase of the project and will spend the majority of 2023 focused on ensuring financial feasibility, securing permits and obtaining both public and private financing partnerships.

“Ultimately, we plan to create a financially sustainable development that will eventually reduce our need for the tax support that we currently receive from the city,” she said.

Councilmember Jim Smith talks about the disadvantages of transitioning away from a third-party waste hauler.

In other business, the council received a presentation from Deputy Public Works Director Marcie MacQuarrie regarding the city’s proposed transition from the Washington State Utility and Transportation Commission (WUTC) solid waste hauler tariffs.

The City of Lynnwood does not currently manage its own contract to provide garbage, yard waste and recycling services but now has the option to contract directly with haulers rather than going through a third party, which MacQuarrie said may offer benefits to the community.

The director said the city has had some challenges with the WUTC that has made staff start looking into other options. Among those challenges are: Poor customer service, no discounts offered for lower income households and a lack of solutions for poor hauler performances. The city also does not have much say in set rates or green initiatives.

While maintaining its own contract would also provide the city a number of challenges, MacQuarrie said staff hopes the benefits are able to make up for those inevitable bumps in the road.

Right now, the city’s hauling rates are somewhat high, between $127-$139 every billing cycle, compared to nearby cities who don’t use a third-party service and have rates closer to $100.

According to MacQuarrie, it would take Lynnwood seven years to fully release itself from the contract with WUTC, and the process is in the planning stages now. If the council approved the split, the city would still have five years to change its mind from the time it gave WUTC notice of the contract ending.

Councilmember Jim Smith said the council shouldn’t consider a split from WUTC at this time as it doesn’t seem to provide any benefit that would justify maintaining the city’s own contract.

“I’m not really excited about this,” Smith said. “I’m not seeing an overwhelming amount of ways this would be helpful to us.”

Also during the meeting, Council President Hurst gave the council a brief update on the task force created to reevaluate the city’s agreement with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO). The task force was created following concerns with water issues at HASCO’s apartment complex in Lynnwood that was brought to the council’s attention at its Sept. 26 meeting.

Hurst said that while he had planned to give council a final update, the task force requested one last meeting in December before reaching a decision on the issue.

“I don’t anticipate any changes to the existing ILA,” Hurst said. “Instead, we’re looking at the Housing Action Plan.”

The task force has now focused its attention on both tenant and landlord responsibilities and how they can be better upheld within HASCO’s agreement with the city moving forward.

— By Lauren Reichenbach

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