Lynnwood City Council votes to approve South Lynnwood Plan, 2021-22 budget amendments

Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith (center right) made farewell comments during her last Lynnwood City Council meeting on Dec. 13.

Before breaking for the winter holidays, the Lynnwood City Council Monday night voted on several proposed measures, including plans for the South Lynnwood Neighborhood, the 2021-22 biennium budget and changes to the city’s board and commission requirements.

At its Dec. 13 business meeting, the Lynnwood City Council unanimously voted to adopt the South Lynnwood Neighborhood Plan — an effort by the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department to address social inequality in South Lynnwood, including income and language barriers.

South Lynnwood includes the areas east of Highway 99 between 196th Street Southwest and 212th Street Southwest, reaching the city limits near both Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. The neighborhood extends east to 44th Avenue West near Lynnwood’s City Center district.

The plan is part of the city’s Park, Arts, Recreation and Conservation (PARC) Plan adopted in 2016. Through that plan, city staff created equity composite maps that identified areas in the city by income, race, household language and poverty to locate areas in need. The plan states it aims “to address neighborhood conditions, development pressures and traffic from the coming Sound Transit Lynnwood Link light rail station, a complicated mix of land uses including important light-industrial businesses and the needs of Lynnwood’s most vulnerable populations.”

Prior to the vote, Council President George Hurst asked why the council had to vote on an ordinance to adopt the plan. Hurst said he was hesitant to adopt the ordinance because he believed the city would be held to some of the policies listed in the plan. In response, city Project Manager Ashley Winchell said the ordinance was required because it’s a subarea plan, which is considered an appendix to the city’s comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan is also adopted through an ordinance, she explained.

Next, the council voted 5-2 to adopt the city’s 2022 salary schedule, which contained changes to five city positions including pay raises. Before the vote, Hurst made a motion – which failed by a 4-3 margin – to delay voting on the salary schedule until the council began budgeting for 2023-24. 

“I just think that the reclassification of these positions really should be something we do through the budget process,” he said.

Councilmember Christine Frizzell – who voted against the motion – pointed out that the council had reviewed the salary schedule repeatedly and there was no reason to delay voting. Councilmembers Ruth Ross, Shannon Sessions and Julieta Altamirano-Crosby also voted against Hurst’s motion.

Council President Jim Smith said that there were still unanswered questions the council had asked city staff, such as how the proposed salaries compared to neighboring cities. He also said the council shouldn’t authorize pay raises since they were unable to provide any tax relief this year through eliminating the city’s car tab fee or utility tax. 

Attempts to remove both taxes were vetoed by Mayor Nicola Smith, who cited concerns regarding loss of tax revenue to fund city programs.

Ross said the salary updates were matters of equity and would ensure the staff were being fairly compensated compared to other city employees. However, Councilmember  Smith said he disagreed about it being an equity issue and that staff did not need the raises because they were already being paid enough.

“It’s not in the name of equity, it’s in the name of giving people raises so let’s just leave it at that,” he said. “(City staff) got all these vacations earlier in the year and now we’re giving them these big raises.”

The council also voted 6-1 – with Frizzell voting against – to adopt an ordinance approving changes to the city’s requirements for board and commission members. The most-discussed change will require each board and commission member to be a registered voter, with the exception of up to one member per board or commission who cannot register to vote for whatever reason. Another exemption would be for those not currently living within city limits.

Another change will require that board and commission meeting minutes be posted online within two weeks after the meeting. Prior to the vote, Frizzell made a motion – which failed 2-5 – to remove a requirement that board and commission meetings be recorded. Due to supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Frizzell said the equipment needed to record the meetings would not be accessible for some time. Additionally, she said some city volunteers might not feel comfortable being recorded.

However, Hurst said that rules under the Washington Open Public Meetings Act apply to city board and commission members and they are subject to being recorded.

The council unanimously voted to adopt two other ordinances regarding the city’s 2022 bond issuance and mid-biennium amendments to Lynnwood’s 2021-22 budget. The bonds will go toward funding the future Community Justice Center project, which includes expanding Lynnwood’s police department, municipal courts and jail.

Each year, the council reviews the city budget for necessary changes that could not be foreseen during the budgeting process. The budget was adopted November 2020 after months of belt tightening from city departments as a cost-cutting measure in response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the review, staff proposed changes to reflect federal pandemic-relief funds the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Amendments were also made to reflect other minor changes.

Lastly, the council unanimously adopted a resolution amending the city council’s rules regarding virtual meetings and notifying members about emergency meetings.

Under the meeting’s new business, Altamirano-Crosby made a motion to discuss using $3 million from the city’s ARPA funds to pay for street maintenance. 

Additionally, Hurst asked the council to give their thoughts about returning to in-person meetings in January. Earlier this year, the council voted to use up to $150,000 in ARPA funds to pay for technology upgrades to stream city council meetings online. According to Hurst, the equipment won’t arrive until March.

Frizzell suggested that the council wait until the new equipment was installed before returning to meeting in person. 

“I want to be back in council chambers (and) I think that there’s much value to that, but I think it’s one of those things that’s tied up and we can’t make it so by wishing it,” she said.

Sessions said she hopes to return to meeting in person soon, but added the council should not use the old equipment. Councilmember Smith said that blaming the supply chain issues linked to the pandemic was not a good enough excuse since he’s been able to shop online without any issue. He also said that the council should return to meeting in person using the old equipment even if “it’s a little clunky, that’s better than nothing at all,” he said.

Smith added that the city needed to prioritize safety for councilmembers and city staff when meeting in person and referred to the council’s July 26 business meeting when demonstrators filled the council’s chambers at Lynnwood City Hall demanding answers after a Black woman died in the Lynnwood Jail. 

Also during the meeting, newly elected council members were administered the oath of office and Frizzell was sworn in as Lynnwood’s new mayor. Newly appointed judge Valerie Bouffiou was also sworn into office.

In January, Joshua Binda will join the council in the Position 3 seat and returning councilmember Shirley Sutton will take the Position 1 seat. The Position 3 seat is being vacated by Ross, who served twice on the council since she was first elected in 2001. The Position 1 seat was previously held by Frizzell, who will assume her role as mayor in 2022.

Nicola Smith has served as Lynnwood’s mayor since 2014. On Monday night, she called the experience a “great honor” and thanked the council and city staff for their work together.

“This has been such a highlight of my life for the last eight years,” she said.

–By Cody Sexton

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