The Lynnwood City Council held a work session on Wednesday dedicated solely to discussing how the city will spend its allotted American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
The City of Lynnwood was granted $10.9 million through ARPA and has until Dec. 31, 2024, to decide how they will use the money. The council has held many discussions on the issue but have not yet reached a decision on how most, or all, of the funds will be allocated.
At its April 4 business meeting, the council heard from Public Works Director Bill Franz on options for using ARPA funds to upgrade the city’s transportations system – mainly the roads.
Councilmembers previously stated that while updates to the roads were certainly a priority, they wanted that money to come from the city’s general funds and not from ARPA.
However, at Wednesday night’s meeting, councilmembers discussed allocating a portion of the funds to at least get road repairs started.
“We are currently actually decades behind funding what should have been done all along,” Councilmember Jim Smith said.
According to Smith, Lynnwood’s Public Works budget for road repairs has not increased for the last 15 years, which is why city streets have become so neglected.
Counclimembers Shannon Sessions and Julietta Altamirano-Crosby said that ARPA funds should be given to the Public Works Department, but only if the council agrees to discuss a budget increase for future road repairs as well.
Sessions, Smith, Josh Binda and Altamirano-Crosby agreed that $2 million seemed like an acceptable amount to give the department, but Councilmember Shirley Sutton said she felt like that was not enough to put a dent in the repairs the city streets need.
The council is set to vote on how much money the Public Works Department will receive at their next meeting on Monday, April 25.
The next item brought to the table was the future Volunteers Of America Western Washington (VOAWW) Lynnwood Neighborhood Center. With land already donated, the VOAWW is only requesting that ARPA money be used to cover the cost of city fees to begin construction.
“I, for one, am not for it at all,” Smith said. “This project has [already] had a lot of donations to it. This, to me, is not ARPA money. So I am not for [this].”
Sessions disagreed with Smith, asking why the council shouldn’t contribute money to a facility that will benefit every person in the community.
Councilmember Patrick Decker voiced his concern that the VOAWW has not yet raised all the funds it needs to begin building.
“I’d be concerned about tying up ARPA funds for a project that they don’t have all the financing for,” he said. “They might not be able to move forward for maybe some time. Would those ARPA funds be locked up waiting for the rest of the funds to come in?”
The council decided to hear from a representative at a later meeting to learn more about the project before a decision is made.
The council agreed to allocate $5,000 in ARPA funds to Lynnwood’s Heroes’ Café to help supply food and drinks for the group’s monthly breakfast and luncheon.
The council also discussed using ARPA money for the city’s Recreational Benefit Fund (RBF). This fund assists families with fees for swimming lessons, summer camps and recreational sports or activities.
However, since councilmembers had different allocation amounts in mind for the RBF, it was decided to wait for more information before making a final decision.
Lynnwood Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Lynn Sordel, who serves as staff liaison to the city’s Human Services Commission, joined the meeting to give a presentation on human services funding options for the council. Among those options were child care assistance, mental health support in schools and the proposed Lynnwood Investing for Tomorrow (LIFT) – a guaranteed income program for families in need of extra assistance.
“These individuals or families have to be employed,” Sordel said. “This is not an unemployment program. [Other than that,] it’s an unconditional program.”
The program would provide families with an extra $500 a month for any essentials they need – including food, rent and clothing. Sordel reassured councilmembers that any ARPA funds put toward these programs would solely benefit residents of Lynnwood, which has been a concern for the council.
Councilmember Smith said the council should not consider allocating ARPA funds for food.
“People shouldn’t have any problems with food here in Lynnwood,” he said. “We have our food bank, which provides families with, to my estimate, $1,000-$1,200 a month [in food].”
Human Services Commissioner Pam Hurst disagreed with Smith, saying that while the food bank is a great solution, it certainly is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution for the residents of Lynnwood.
“I talked to the families that might be really great candidates for this program,” Pam Hurst said. “Because they are working, oftentimes they don’t have time to come to the food bank, to sit in the line, to be able to receive the food. Even on a Saturday, it’s still not widely available to all of the areas in Lynnwood.”
The council was undecided about allocating ARPA funds to Human Services.
In addition, the council heard the parks, recreation & cultural arts department’s request for funding to update Lynnwood’s parks.
While the department had previously requested ARPA funding, Sordel brought an updated request before the council to reflect the realization that some proposed park upgrades were out of the city boundaries allowed for ARPA spending.
The biggest funding request coming from the parks is to renovate the Scriber Lake Park Trail. Currently covered in mulch, the city is hoping to upgrade it to an elevated, 8-foot-wide platform that is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.
“The current trail is 40 years old,” Sordel said. “It’s a maintenance nightmare. It’s impassable. Between mother nature and the beaver population in the lake, elevating and putting an 8-foot-wide, half-mile loop around this park… I’ve shared this vision with you. This is Lynnwood’s green park. And if you invest in this and you make this passable for all of our population, this is a great investment.”
Councilmembers shared mixed feelings about putting money toward Scriber Lake Park updates. Councilmember Decker said he doesn’t see benefits unless the city comes up with a tangible plan to mitigate the crime that happens in the park and surrounding area. Sessions and Binda agreed that by upgrading the park and encouraging more families to use the space, it would subsequently push crime out of the area.
The council did not make a decision regarding park upgrade funding at the meeting.
Finally, the council heard from Housing Authority of Snohomish County’s Program Manager Chris Collier regarding a self-sustaining loan program to support the creation of housing in Lynnwood. This program would help high-income renters leave apartments and create more space within Lynnwood.
However, Collier’s proposal includes the “missing middle housing” that has been proposed in cities across Washington state. This means Lynnwood would need to create duplexes, triplexes or four-plexes, and put each individual unit up for sale – like a condo.
Because a program like this has not been established anywhere, ever before – as well as the idea of pushing multi-family homes into single-family neighborhoods – the council did not react favorably to the idea.
“Since this hasn’t been done elsewhere, I think our scrutiny and diligence would be about 400% of what it might normally be,” Decker said. “If [the “missing middle housing” ] was a requirement for this program to be successful, as much as I think a program like this is needed, I would not be in favor of it.”
The council was scheduled to hear from others regarding sustainability and food bank funding options, but they decided to adjourn the meeting at the three-hour mark. Another meeting about the use of ARPA funds will be scheduled at a later date.
— By Lauren Reichenbach