Local Government

City Council split on city-sponsored relief fund

By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

The City of Lynnwood held its second virtual special finance committee meeting on April 23 to expand on City Council’s discussion about the city’s planned and proposed responses to finance-related issues from COVID-19.

Council President Christine Frizzell asked City of Lynnwood’s Finance Director Sonja Springer to review the material discussed at the April 9 meeting, to remind the council of the estimated financial impacts of COVID-19.

As of April 24, the finance department has yet to receive new information from the department of revenue specific to the city of Lynnwood, which would allow for updated preliminary estimates of the reductions in the 2020 forecasted general fund revenue.

“Just as a reminder, the general fund is going to get hit hard, specifically in sales tax,” stated Springer. “I have not updated this yet, because I have not received any new information specific to our city.”

At the previous finance meeting, Springer forecasted a reduction in 3.7 million of sales tax revenue, with a total estimated loss of $5,160,000 in the city’s expected 2020 general fund revenue.

Councilmembers George Hurst and Jim Smith both expressed frustration with the lack of updates, stating that receiving regularly updated numbers is critical to effectively combatting the city’s revenue downturn.

“I was hoping that we would receive more detail… we need it,” said Hurst. “We can’t keep repeating the same figures and not taking any action.”

“We are definitely on the radar to make reductions… those revenue figures will be updated when more information is available,” replied Springer. “It was just two weeks ago that we went over this, and there hasn’t been an update, but there will be as we explore different expenditure reductions in the departments.”

To offset the forecasted estimated reductions, Springer explained that the City of Lynnwood has identified different channels of expenditure reductions to the general fund, saving the city a projected $3,242,969. According to Springer, the city is still a couple of million dollars short but is continuing to explore different reduction expenditures to close the gap. Additionally, department directors have all been encouraged to identify future reductions to save money.

“Sonja has gathered information from the departments an initial round of expenditure reductions,” added City Administrator Art Cenzia. “It’s getting us halfway through the shortfall.”

The council then discussed the objectives and feasibility of a city-sponsored community relief fund. Cenzia shared Mayor Nicola Smith’s thoughts on creating a relief fund, saying that she wanted to make sure that, “We as a city don’t raise expectations in the community that we can come to the rescue because we’re in a tight spot ourselves.”

With the uncertainty surrounding the city’s accurate loss of general fund revenue, Councilmember Ruth Ross believes it ultimately isn’t the right time or responsible use of taxpayer money to create and sustain a relief fund. 

“I think that the most difficult thing about this is figuring out the balance between saving for tomorrow and trying to find some relief today. It would be irresponsible for us at this point, to do anything but wait for the facts to come in,” said Ruth. “We don’t know how big the hole’s going to be and I just think that taxpayers expect us to be as responsible as we can be.”

“This crisis is twofold. One of the crises is for the city itself, and a crisis for the residents that live in the city… I would hope that we would consider some funds toward a relief fund,” disagreed Hurst.

Councilmember Shannon Sessions agreed with Hurst that the council should be open to exploring the option of creating a fund, stating that whether or not the money is found, the council should have a plan in place.

“I know we are all concerned with if we can’t even make ends meet, then how are we supposed to help other people make ends meet,” said Sessions. “With that being said… if the money is found creatively in some way, I think we still need to have a plan… of what we do. It’s okay to talk about that.”

Sessions clarified that she would not be in favor of creating a fund if there was no money available to support the community and proceeded to question if there was any possibility of Springer finding a couple hundred thousand dollars to funnel into a financial support reserve.

“I chatted with the mayor about this just last night and she is asking Sonja to look under our furniture and in our couches to see what is there- and Sonja is going to that,” replied Cenzia. “By the next meeting, we may have some options to share with the council.”

The next special finance committee meeting to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the City of Lynnwood will take place at 3 p.m. on Thursday, May 14.

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