Lynnwood City Council reviews feedback from local business owners

Lynnwood City Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby (center) reviews survey data from local business owners on Oct. 25.

The Lynnwood City Council last week reviewed preliminary findings from a survey taken by local business owners who agreed the city is a welcoming place, but at times difficult to work with.

In August, the city sent surveys to 2,100 Lynnwood businesses to learn how it could help them recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. At its Oct. 25 business meeting, the council and city staff reviewed preliminary data, which found 67% of the 301 respondents think the city is an inviting place to own a business.

However, half of survey takers said doing business with the city wasn’t always easy. According to the data, several business owners of color were more likely to say it’s hard to operate a business in Lynnwood if they don’t speak English. Some also said that not understanding technology was a major barrier, especially when applying for financial assistance.

Additionally, 80% said they were concerned with the rising cost of doing business in the city. According to the data, more than 40% of business owners have issues with the per-employee fee, which is roughly $100 per employee working more than 15 hours each week. For employees working 14 hours or less, the fee is nearly $50. Conversely, about the same percentage said they did not care about the tax. 

“I think it’s just something we should review the next time we’re looking at the business fees,” said Executive Assistant Lisa Harrison.

Some survey respondents suggested the city hold a street fair for businesses to encourage more people to buy local. The council in the past has discussed the possibility of holding such an event, and Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Corsby said the council should consider sponsoring one next year.

“It’s a multicultural event (where) they can share all their foods and honor their cultures,” she said.

Staff also suggested working with the Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce to establish a “buy local” promotion and using American Rescue Plan Act funds to create grants to help the business community recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.

During the discussion, Councilmember Shannon Sessions agreed the council should use ARPA funds to address language barriers for non-English-speaking business owners. The council also considered the idea of inviting business owners to listening sessions to learn other ways the city can help.

Additionally, Councilmember Patrick Decker said that even if someone can speak English, government information can still be very confusing because of the way it’s written. He suggested the city find ways to simplify resources so they are easier to understand.

“When you start speaking ‘government speak’ — or trying to read ‘government speak’ — it gets extremely difficult very quickly,” he said.

Decker said he was in favor of street fairs but added that the city should not try to profit from them. Instead, he said businesses should only have to pay enough for the city to hold the event.

Regarding listening sessions, Mayor Nicola Smith pointed out that the city has held similar events in the past with Korean business owners.

“We are known to do that…and that model can be repeated, easily,” she said.

In other business, the council voted 6-1 to approve a $1.7 million contract with Mackenzie Engineering to design the Community Recovery Center — an emergency mental health facility that will be located adjacent to the future Community Justice Center.

The recovery center was proposed by a task force formed by Nicola Smith in response to the death of a local woman, Tirhas Tesfatsion, who died in the Lynnwood Police Department Jail earlier this year. The Snohomish County Medical Examiner ruled that she died by suicide.

The Community Justice Center project includes redeveloping the Lynnwood’s police department, municipal courts and jail. Initial plans for the jail included capacity for 120 beds. Now, the city plans to reduce that number to 84 beds to make space for the recovery center.

The contract was originally part of the meeting’s unanimous consent agenda, but Council President George Hurst said the item was important enough to warrant a roll-call vote. Councilmember Ruth Ross was the lone dissenting vote.

“I felt that this was an important step moving toward the Community Recovery Center,” he said.

Also during the meeting, the council agreed to postpone voting on the city’s 2021 salary schedule.

Earlier in the meeting, the council voted to eliminate the city’s $40 car tab fee

–By Cody Sexton

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