Updated at 7:36 p.m. with a statement from Lynnwood City Council President George Hurst.
Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith plans to veto the Lynnwood City Council’s Oct. 25 vote to eliminate the city’s $40 car tab fee.
The mayor announced her decision in a memo sent to the council Nov. 3. The veto action will occur during the Monday, Nov. 8 city council meeting. The Nov. 8 agenda also includes a proposal by Council President George Hurst to override the mayor’s veto, which would require a supermajority of the council (five votes) in favor.
After weeks of contentious discussion, the council voted 4-3 to eliminate the $40 tax, which provides approximately $1 million annually for the city’s road maintenance programs. The measure — proposed by Hurst — is set to go into effect in January 2023.
In her Nov. 3 memo explaining the veto, Smith said the council’s decision to abolish the tax without offering any alternative funding sources for road maintenance was rushed and went against the council’s budgeting practices.
“Normally, proposals that may significantly impact the city’s finances are initiated as a request by council for analysis of the fiscal impacts of the proposal, including alternative courses of action,” Smith explained in the memo. “Next, the city council refers the matter to the council finance committee for detailed review. This process includes analysis of near-term and long-term impacts upon services, programs, and projects. Also, an assessment is made of the proposal’s consistency with adopted plans and policies, including Lynnwood’s financial policies and the strategic plan.”
Additionally, Smith said the council did not follow proper procedure and should have informed the public about the proposal to remove the tax and the impacts it would have on the city, and then held a public hearing to allow residents the opportunity to provide input.
“In this instance, the rushed process used to adopt prepared legislation favored political expediency over thoughtful governance,” the memo said. “In sidestepping the city’s established process for fiscal decision-making, the city council’s action sets the stage for future initiatives that can circumvent Lynnwood’s careful and inclusive budget process. As mayor, I cannot support the council’s hurried and out-of-sequence financial decision.”
Smith added that since the measure would impact the 2023-24 budgeting process, it should be handled by councilmembers who are in office at that time. She also cited the economic uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for her decision.
Hurst initially proposed eliminating the tax at the council’s Oct. 11 business meeting. City staff — including the city’s finance director — advised against the measure, saying it would cut one-third of the funding for road and sidewalk repair. In his proposal, Hurst offered no alternative funding sources and said since the measure wouldn’t go into effect until 2023, the council would have plenty of time to figure it out next year. He said he wanted to remove the fee to offer tax relief to residents and to honor the 54% of Lynnwood voters who supported I-976, a failed measure aimed at capping car tab fees in Washington state at $30.
In a statement sent to Lynnwood Today, Hurst said the veto was another example of Smith’s refusal to offer residents tax relief.
“The veto is a rejection of the majority of voters in Lynnwood who in 2019, voted in favor of I-976, the ‘$30 car tab’ initiative,” he said. “The mayor hid her intent to veto this ordinance until the day after election day, a reflection of what I see as a mayor’s dismissive attitude towards the voters of Lynnwood.”
The following week, the council narrowly voted to keep the tax pending further discussion and scheduled another vote. During the Oct. 25 vote, Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby — who initially voted to keep the fee — said she changed her mind after hearing from some community members who were against it. Crosby later proposed using federal pandemic relief funds to pay for road maintenance.
Smith pointed out that residents have consistently identified transportation as a top priority in the city and said that eliminating the fee based on support for I-976 would be inappropriate.
“No one likes to pay taxes and fees, but vehicle license fees help offset the enormous cost of providing safe streets for Lynnwood’s drivers,” she said. “My decision to veto (the ordinance) was made with solemn appreciation for the city council, and in support for the safe travels of all Lynnwood residents, businesses, and visitors.”
–By Cody Sexton