After a contentious discussion, the Lynnwood City Council voted Monday night to keep the city’s car tab fee in place to maintain funding for Lynnwood’s streets.
In 2019, Washington voters approved I-976, which would cap car tab fees at $30 across the state. However, the measure was overturned last year by the Washington State Supreme Court which ruled it unconstitutional. At its Oct. 11 business meeting, the council voted 4-3 against a proposal that would have eliminated the fee, which provides approximately $1 million to the city’s road repair programs each year. Voting for the measure were Councilmembers George Hurst, Jim Smith and Patrick Decker.
The motion to eliminate the fee was brought last week by Council President Hurst, who has advocated in the past for striking down the city-imposed fee. Last week, Hurst proposed eliminating the fee because the car tab measure was supported by 54% of Lynnwood voters.
Prior to the vote, Councilmember Shannon Sessions made a motion that failed 3-4 — with Councilmembers Hurst, Smith, Patrick Decker and Julieta Altamirano-Crosby voting against — to move the topic to a future work session meeting. According to Sessions, council procedural rules state that a topic must be supported by three councilmembers before being added to a meeting agenda and that rule was not adhered to.
“We need more time to discuss it, we need to see what the damage would be (from) doing such a thing and we’d need to hear from our staff,” she said.
Last week, staff provided the council with an update on the city’s transportation projects and road maintenance programs, which Public Work Director Bill Franz said are underfunded. For the past 20 years, the city has allocated approximately $1 million to road repairs and the rest comes from the city’s Transportation Benefit District, which uses sales tax revenues and car tab fees to fund street maintenance programs. During the briefing, Franz said that Finance Director Michelle Meyer — who did not attend the meeting — had concerns about the impacts of eliminating the fee.
Councilmember Christine Frizzell agreed with Sessions’ motion and added that the city should not be cutting off revenue sources for street and sidewalk repairs. She said that while no one is in favor of paying taxes, the city still has expenses and the council needed to be responsible.
Additionally, Frizzell said she was disturbed by the amount of city time and resources that went into preparing the proposal and echoed Sessions’ concerns about the break in council procedure.
“I think that this has been a waste of public funds by one councilmember to make this happen because it’s so far outside of what our guidelines are,” she said.
In response, Hurst said that rule only applied to agenda items that would take up a lot of city staff’s time. He also said the council does not need any more information because staff briefed them last week on the car tab fee. Hurst also pointed out that, if approved, the measure would not go into effect into 2023, which he said would give staff time to figure out how to fill the gap in the transportation budget.
Councilmembers also discussed the timing of the proposal, which some thought was inappropriate. Councilmember Ruth Ross said she was uncomfortable having the discussion at the end of the year, with the general election weeks away. Ross added that the council could potentially have three new members in January and that they should have a say in the matter.
“This is a big decision, and we should reserve this decision so people who are going to be living with it for at least the next four years have a say in what we do with the budget,” she said.
Ross also pointed out that the measure would only benefit people with vehicles and have no impact on residents without them.
Council Vice President Smith praised Hurst for bringing the matter forward and added that he agreed the fee should be eliminated. Though he would have preferred the measure go into effect next year, Smith said waiting until 2023 would give staff more than enough time to fill the budget gap.
“I don’t see there being a problem with tax relief,” he said.
However, Sessions pointed out that the city is still dealing with the economic impacts of the pandemic and said there were other ways to help residents without eliminating revenue sources. She also said that the council has repeatedly decided against eliminating the fee.
Still, Hurst said that the council should listen to the Lynnwood voters and residents who have opposed the car tab tax. He added that if the council couldn’t vote on this matter, then they shouldn’t be voting on anything else until the new councilmembers take office in January and should rescind the American Rescue Plan Act funds the council has authorized staff to spend.
“Just because this is an election year does not mean we should not make decisions,” he said.
Following the vote against removing the car tab fee, the council voted 5-2 — with Sessions and Ross opposed — to bring the discussion back to the council’s Oct. 18 work session. The motion was proposed by Councilmember Altamirano-Crosby, who said that even though she voted against the fee elimination she still wanted to discuss it further. She also said that the council should go out into the community and ask residents whether the city should have a car tab fee.
Frizzell said she was concerned that one week wouldn’t give staff enough time to prepare a presentation and suggested that the council could wait until its next business meeting in two weeks so that they had more data, in addition to community input.
“I think that we need a balanced approach (when) looking at data,” she said.
In other business, the council received an update from city staff regarding proposed amendments to the city’s 2021 Comprehensive Plan.
This year, the city received three proposals for amendments. Two are amendments to subarea plans and were submitted by staff and the third amendment was proposed by Housing Hope and Edmonds School District to change the future land use designation for a portion of the Cedar Valley Community School site located at 19200 56th Ave. W. The property is owned by the school district and would be used to develop a 40- to-50-unit affordable housing complex to house homeless students and their families.
Also during the meeting, the council:
-adopted a proclaimation recognizing Monday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Lynnwood.
-adopted an ordiannce updating the city’s codes to include language regarding the newly created Development and Business Services Department.
-adopted an ordinance updating the city’s municipal codes regarding pet licensing requirements.
–By Cody Sexton