After approving multiple last-minute amendments to fund city services and delay hiring a proposed race and equity coordinator position, the Lynnwood City Council voted Monday night to adopt the proposed budget for the 2021-22 biennium.
The council unanimously voted at its Nov. 23 business meeting to approve the $112 million budget, which city staff said reflects months of efforts to reduce city spending in response to a $7-million-plus shortfall in revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Although each budget process is challenging for its own reasons, this year has brought complexities and challenges that we’ve never had to deal with before,” said Mayor Nicola Smith.
Prior to the unanimous vote, the council voted 4-3 — with Councilmembers Christine Frizzell, Shannon Sessions and Ruth Ross voting against — to reallocate $2 million intended for the city’s economic development investment fund (EDIF) to pay city services impacted by the pandemic. The option was one of several recommendations from city staff presented earlier this month to the council.
The motion to amend was made by Councilmember George Hurst, who said the city should instead allocate funds toward park services, filling a vacancy in the police department and replenishing the city’s saving’s account.
Under Hurst’s amendment, the city would allocate $180,000 to the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department (PRAC) for park services, $283,000 to fund a narcotics detective position and $37,000 for the parks department’s PRCA Recreation Benefit Fund. Hurst also suggested the remaining $1.5 million could be put back into the city’s revenue stabilization fund, of which the city intends to use $1.7 million to fill the budget gap.
Due to staffing reductions made earlier this year, parks and recreation staff proposed downgrading maintenance services for parks from a Grade B to a Grade C level. According to the proposal, this would mean less frequent turf mowing and landscaping, no seasonal lighting or planting on city property and longer response times for vandalism reports.
“I think the residents deserve better,” Hurst said.
However, Council President Frizzell — who voted against the amendment — said the council should wait until the city’s end-of-year financial statements are available in April-May so they have a clearer idea of the pandemic’s impact on the city’s finances. Frizzell said the council could then decide as a whole on how to proceed.
“We need to wait to see how big the (financial) hole is and then we need to use one of those three (plans) or a combination of those three to fill it,” she said.
Earlier this year, the council passed a resolution authorizing the city to use revenue stabilization funds to fill the budget gap, as long as there was a plan in place to restore the fund to a $6 million balance. During recent budget discussions, Hurst has said there are currently no clear plans to repay the stabilization fund.
“I think we do need to respect the resolution that we passed that we need to have a plan in place,” he said.
The amendment also allows the department to continue to fund a detective sergeant position on the Snohomish County Regional Drug Task Force.
The police department budget took the biggest hit, facing $1.9 million in reductions. Initially, the proposal left nine FTE staff positions unfilled, including two narcotics enforcement officers and an investigator position.
Last week, Police Chief Jim Nelson informed the council that funding had been found for one narcotics enforcement position through salary reimbursement for a custody sergeant currently acting as a police academy instructor.
In other action on a 5-2 vote, the council delayed filling a new race and social justice coordinator position in the mayor’s office. According to the proposal, the vacant intergovernmental relations coordinator position would be converted to a new race and social justice coordinator role that would work with the mayor’s office to promote equity in the city.
The motion to delay was made by Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, who said the position is not something that Lynnwood residents want. Councilmembers Ross and Frizzell voted against the motion.
During the discussion, Altamirano-Crosby briefed the council on data she recently collected while canvassing the city, asking residents which position they thought the city should prioritize filling — the race social justice coordinator, a social worker and community outreach position or another position. Based on responses from 200 residents, Altamirano-Crosby said 60% were in favor of a social worker and community outreach position.
“The data doesn’t lie, so I cannot support the city hiring an advisor of diversity, equity (and) social justice,” she said.
In response, Council Vice President Sessions said the city was able to fill a social worker and community outreach position through grant funding from the Verdant Health Commission. Additionally, Sessions said the council should trust the department heads who presented their budgets.
“In the perfect world, I would like the Lynnwood Police Department to be 100% funded and 100% staffed but I also understand that we’re in a budget crisis and so do they,” she said.
Sessions said she was in favor of waiting to fill the coordinator position until the council has had time to figure out the duties of the role, which some said was unclear. However, Council President Frizzell said the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission has been petitioning the council for the position for some time. Frizzell also said she wasn’t sure Altamirano-Crosby’s findings from 200 residents were truly reflective of what the community wants.
“Statistically, I’m not sure one question does this position justice,” she said
Councilmember Jim Smith also made a motion to postpone adopting the budget until December to give the council more time to deliberate. After further discussion, they quickly decided that the vote would not be delayed and the council unanimously voted to adopt the budget.
Also during the meeting, the council unanimously voted to approve a flat property tax of $4.3 million — the same amount levied in 2020. According to city staff, the amount equates to a levy rate of approximately 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed value — decrease of roughly $2 for the average property taxpayer.
— By Cody Sexton