Council discusses Community Justice Center medical contract, use of remaining ARPA funds

Lynnwood police talk to the council about the CJC medical contract.

With more hate speech evident at Monday’s Lynnwood City Council meeting, the City of Lynnwood announced Thursday that it has an updated protocol for remote public comments.

For those wishing to submit a public comment via Zoom, they must register online no less than 24 hours before the meeting. Meeting login instructions will then be sent via the commenter’s preferred contact method.

While city staff had a bit more control over the unwanted comments at Monday’s meeting, many racist and antisemitic remarks were shared before individuals were muted. A few who were muted left the meeting, only to sign back on with another name, again yelling hate speech before they were once again kicked out.

Like last week’s meeting, Councilmember George Hurst was the only councilmember to say anything about the hate comments.

“Bigotry is not welcome here in Lynnwood,” he said.

Following public comment, the council held a quick special business meeting to vote on a few matters before launching into its work session. The emergency medical department code amendments, Development and Business Services fee amendments, Teamsters 2024-26 labor agreement and the 2024 salary schedule and ordinance were all approved in roughly 15 minutes..

During the work session, Lynnwood Police Chief Cole Langdon and Deputy Chiefs Chuck Steichen and Patrick Fagan spoke to the council about the Community Justice Center’s medical service contract.

During the council’s Nov. 20 meeting, Langdon said the Community Health Center of Snohomish County (CHC) would no longer be able to partner with the city to provide medical services to inmates.

After a lawsuit was filed against the city following a 2021 suicide in the jail, the CHC decided to no longer offer health services in the justice center due to the increase in costs due to that liability.

“The CHC said, ‘Listen, it’s just not viable for us to move forward,’” Langdon said.

The police chief said staff are still working to partner with the CHC in other ways and the relationship has not been damaged because of its decision.

The justice center is expected to be operational by March 24, 2024, Langdon said. However, a medical contract must be in place 60 days prior to the service start date, which is why Langdon is discussing the contract with the council this early. A contract must be signed no later than Jan. 4, 2024, for the center to open on schedule.

“This jail was built with the commitment of doing things better,” Langdon said. “It was built with the opportunity to provide meaningful off ramps, be responsive to community needs and see what we could do to connect people; to make the jail actually a place of healing, a place where people could stabilize and again connect them so when they walk out the door, it’s not stepping back into a cycle of recidivism. Is there something we could do to interrupt that [cycle]?”

Police staff began talking with Wellpath, which provides medical services to other jails throughout the U.S. While a partnership with the CHC would have cost the city almost nothing, a contract with Wellpath, Landgon said, is expected to cost around $1.7 million.

While that steep cost increase was both unexpected and unbudgeted, the police chief said he remains confident that police staff can find ways to cover much of that cost so the city can provide the best care for its inmates moving forward.

Fagan said staff have been looking closely at the police budget to find areas that might have surpluses that they can put toward the contract cost. Currently, the jail is budgeted for 28 employees, but Lynnwood only has 20. However, he said that will hopefully change soon.

“There are some [surpluses], but there are a lot of costs coming in the next year,” he said. “Those salaried positions are going to be filled, and we have additional costs that we have to factor in.”

Right now, Lynnwood’s inmates are being housed at other facilities while the building is under construction, which is costing the city an estimated $1.5 million. If there are any delays in the construction timeline, that number could again increase, and Fagan said staff is being mindful of that possibility.

Langdon said staff are continuing to find ways to cover the entire cost of the Wellpath contract for 2024. Since the center will not open until March, the first annual contract is expected to be around $1.3 million — and Langdon said his staff are determined to have the department cover the first year of expenses.

“Our attempt here is to absorb as much of these unanticipated costs as possible,” he said. “There is a potential we will have to come back at the end of 2024 and let you know how much of a shortfall we actually had or what we weren’t able to cover, but our plan is to absorb it as much as possible.”

Steichen talked about the department’s Fund 105, which started out this year with roughly $3.5 million. By the end of the year, it is expected to have a remaining balance of around $1.2 million. While staff does not want that remaining balance to drop too drastically in case of unforeseen costs, Steichen said some of it could be reallocated to cover the contract.

“What I would propose to council as an option is provide us with the authority to transfer up to $400,000 from Fund 105 to our 011 fund to assist in paying for the jail medical contract,” he said.

While that would still leave substantial funds to be acquired, Langdon said staff is committed to not putting more burden on the city and its taxpayers.

“This is a tough year coming up,” he said. “It’s a year of opportunity. It’s a year where, as we transition from an old model to a new model … we see things getting better. We’re optimistic, but we also want to let you know, it is a time of uncertainty.”

Council President Shannon Sessions discusses the jail medical contract.

In other business, councilmembers received an American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund update from Lynnwood Finance Director Michelle Meyer.

In May 2022, the council had allocated $65,000 to Silver Creek Family Church for repairs to its parking lot that would benefit the Lynnwood Food Bank, which operates out of the church. However, Meyer said that after thoroughly inspecting the rules and regulations, she determined that the council is unable to distribute these funds in this manner.

“There’s really no way we can award that funding to the church because there’s no way for us to show that that capital improvement would not also be used by the religious organization,” she said.

Additionally, Meyer said that funds allocated for a gun buy-back program were not completely exhausted, and the remaining balance of those ARPA funds will go back into the account. Before these two “refunds,” the finance director said the council still had roughly $9,000 left to allocate. Now, with the two returns, the remaining fund balance is just over $81,488.

Meyer said there are a few proposed ARPA funding options in the works, but the council does not yet have all the information on those. While councilmembers were expected to vote on the matter during their Dec. 11 business meeting, Council President Shannon Sessions suggested the council wait to vote until all the information on these proposals has been gathered and presented, and the council agreed with that idea.

The council also heard from Meyer regarding a few travel and expense policy updates. The policy — which had not been updated since 2006 — was amended earlier this year, but since then, councilmembers and staff have found that some of the language used was unclear and caused confusion.

“We added a sentence right in the beginning that any employee or elected official that spends city funds outside of the policy will be required to reimburse the city,” Meyer said. “It’s been happening anyway, but this just puts it in writing.”

Meyer said that the section of the policy that had possibly been causing the most confusion has been cleaned up significantly — that section talked about whether the councilmembers’ full two-year budget allotment was available for complete expenditure within the first year of the biennium.

“The language, as it’s included in this redlined version, reflects that councilmembers can each spend up to 50% of the amount allocated in the biennial budget in the first year,” she said. “Then whatever is not spent in the first year will roll to that second year of the biennium.”

Meyer also said this change clarified that the budget policy is per council position. In case one councilmember leaves within the first year and another individual replaces them for the second year, that individual will still have a budget to work with, she said.

The council is set to vote on the updated policy at its Dec. 11 business meeting.

— By Lauren Reichenbach

  1. I fear a national medical provider could be as problematic as a national incarceration provider. If the relationship is good with CHC and the only obstacle is due to the increase in costs due to that liability, wouldn’t it be possible to purchase a great deal of insurance to protect them from liability with the “around $1.7 million” the city would save on the Wellpath contract? Not to mention the facts that we would be supporting our own county services, communication would likely be more efficient and transparent, and they are already presumably doing good work.

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