Council votes to decrease property tax levy, postpones discussions of salary schedule, city budget

Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell discusses property tax increases with the council.

The Lynnwood City Council at its Monday, Nov. 28, business meeting unanimously voted to amend the city’s 2023 property tax levy from $5 million to $4.5 million – the same amount as the 2022 levy.

The motion to amend came from Councilmember Jim Smith, who said he believed that Lynnwood residents deserved a tax break.

At the council’s Oct. 5 meeting, Lynnwood Finance Director Michelle Meyer proposed an increase of 1% – the maximum allowed annually by state law – which would increase total collections from $4.5 million to $5 million. While the levy rate per every $1,000 of assessed value is expected to decrease from 53 cents to 48 cents in the new year, Meyer said the average Lynnwood homeowner should still expect to see their property tax bills increase by roughly $27 in 2023.

Smith said rather than trying to take more of the citizens’ money, the council should be focusing on ways to make greater budget cuts, so Lynnwood residents are taxed even less.

“I see it as the government saying, ‘We need the money more than [the citizens] do,’” Smith said. “We always want to talk about how we’re concerned with small businesses, yet we’re basically saying that if we go into a recession, we’re still going to tax them more anyway. The government is one of the interesting parts of an economy where they get to raise their money even if nobody else is making any more money.”

Meyer told the council that by choosing to not increase the property tax levy, the city’s general fund will see a $500,000 deficit by the end of 2023 and a shortfall of $1.5 million in 2024.

Council President George Hurst reminded his fellow councilmembers that according to the information given, the city would finish the biennium with roughly $4 million extra than what it was required to have by law. This, he said, could help absorb the decrease in revenues left by not increasing the property tax levy.

All councilmembers voted for the property tax decrease.

During the meeting’s public comment section, former councilmember Ted Hikel spoke to the council regarding the city’s salary schedule that was introduced to the council at its Nov. 21 meeting.

“I believe I have the background and experience to make the following statements,” Hikel said. “I have never seen a lack of transparency and lack of openness on the part of the city administration as we witnessed last Monday night. Last-minute changes in the long overdue salary ordinance were thrown on the table and you, council, are asked to overlook the lack of transparency by the city administration and just vote yes.”

Hikel urged the council to take more time to assess both the salary schedule and the 2023-24 budget before voting on the matters.

During the public hearing for the city’s 2021-22 final budget amendments, Hikel decided to speak more about the salary schedule and the city staff’s alleged lack of transparency.

“The mayor and her favorite employee have enough money to spend over $5,000 to … go kayaking on the Potomac River and post pictures on social media about it, but you don’t have enough money to fund roads?” he asked. “There’s enough money to raise all the department directors’ salaries calling it an equity issue, but you don’t have enough money to fund the roads? Take a minute and think about that.”

While councilmembers did not verbally state that they agreed or disagreed with Hikel, both discussions on the city’s salary schedule and the 2023-24 budget were postponed to the council’s Dec. 5 and Dec. 12 meetings.

Councilmember Smith moved to postpone the budget discussion, saying he didn’t feel like the council had enough information to make an informed decision.

“I think we all still have a lot of questions to ask,” Smith said. “So at this time, I’m not ready to approve it. I’m just ready to postpone it.”

Councilmember Patrick Decker shared the same sentiment about the city’s salary schedule and moved to postpone that topic as well.

Both motions passed unanimously.

In other business, the council also unanimously voted to eliminate the extra council meeting during months that have five Mondays rather than four. Hurst said the council would be able to remove these extra Monday meetings while still fulfilling their legal meeting requirements due to occasional Wednesday meetings that are held.

In addition, the council received a presentation spotlight from the city’s development and business services department.

–By Lauren Reichenbach

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