LYNNWOOD, Wash., March 3, 2022 – Lynnwood City Council voted in Naz Lashgari as the planning commissioner, Lisa Marshall as city attorney, and discussed fee and tax relief for Lynnwood residents at their Monday, February 28, business meeting.
Tax relief for Lynnwood residents
At the Council Summit held on January 29, council members indicated that one priority of the first quarter of 2022 was to discuss “tax and fee relief for residents.”
A memorandum was presented to the council by Financial Director Michelle Meyer for the council’s consideration on the potential impacts of eliminating taxes and fees including taxes on city-owned utilities and vehicle fees collected by the city’s Transportation Benefit District (TBD).
As allowed by Washington State Law that permits municipalities to enact utility taxes up to 6% (or higher with voter approval) on certain utilities, the city has a 6% tax rate in place on the water, sewer, and stormwater utilities.
While revenue from utility charges is accounted for in the Utility Fund, utility tax revenue is collected in the general fund, from which all departments receive funding.
Single-family residential accounts provide 37% (approximately $5.25 in utility tax per month), commercial accounts provide 34%, and multi-family residential accounts provide 29% of utility operating revenue.
Council discussed the implications of tax reductions on the city’s budget for more than 30 minutes, ultimately deciding to continue the discussion in forthcoming meetings in further detail.
During the mayor’s opening comments, she announced that the investigation of the in-custody death of Tirhas Tesfatsion has been completed and presented to her family.
The investigation was ruled as a suicide in which Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell wrote “there is insufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed beyond a reasonable doubt.” The evidence in the investigation, Cornell wrote, “establishes, tragically but conclusively, that Ms. Tesfatsion died by suicide and that neither the standard of criminal recklessness or criminal negligence can be met under the facts and the law.”
The full investigation is available, as a public record, on the city’s website.
New city staff
Following approval of minutes and comments by the Mayor, Council President George Hurst transitioned the meeting to the unanimous consent agenda where Naz Lashgari and Ashley Winchell were brought in to confirm Lashgari’s appointment as planning commissioner, Position 3. The council approved Lashgari’s appointment to the position unanimously.
“I want to thank you, Naz, for your service in a variety of ways in our community,” Councilmember Sessions said of Lashgari’s appointment.
“We’re really excited to bring Naz on and to get back to a full commission. We have a lot of work to get done in the next few years, and we think she’ll bring some great insight to those plans,” Ashley Winchell said.
Moving on to business Items, President George Hurst motioned to change the number of required candidates for Attorney Services, under LMC 2.06.030, from three to one for the appointment of the city attorney, seconded by Councilmember Decker.
Council Vice President Smith challenged Hurst’s motion by saying that having only one candidate is “not in the best interest for our future.”
“In the future I hope that we’re overwhelmed with applications in whatever positions there are, whether they be directors or anything else that comes up,” Council Vice President said.
Despite Smith’s challenge, Hurst’s motion passed unanimously.
Following this, Council Vice President Smith motioned to confirm Lisa Marshall as city attorney for the city of Lynnwood and award the contract to Kenyon Disend, seconded by Councilmember Altamirano-Crosby. The term is for four years at $400,000 per year.
City Attorney Lisa Marshall was interviewed by the council on February 22 and was found by the council to be “fully qualified to perform the work,” as stated by Council President Hurst.
The motion was later amended to clarify some wording by Council President Hurst seconded by Council Vice President Smith. The amendment passed unanimously.
In-person meetings and council safety
President George Hurst presented an additional business item that was not originally included in the agenda concerning the return to in-person meetings and whether council meetings would be fully conducted in-person or would allow a hybrid model.
Council members who are out-of-town or have important family matters were a common example of allowing virtual attendance, supported by most council members.
Councilmember Decker added that he believed requesting virtual attendance to council leadership before being out of town seemed like a viable option.
Having a limit on the number of remote meetings was a solution President George Hurst suggested in which the council would be limited to two remote attendances on top of their three allowed absences.
The safety of in-person meetings was also a contentious subject for the council, who discussed having the presence of uniformed police officers at council meetings in response to council chambers being stormed last year by protesters upset about Tesfatsion’s death, some threatening and swearing at council members.
“If you can’t figure out a way to keep us safe, if it’s not going to be police, then we need to find another way to keep us safe,” Councilmember Sessions said. “We have had members of this council who have been physically threatened; that can’t happen in Lynnwood . . . just because a few people get their feelings hurt because a police is in the room is not a good enough reason to not have them there.”
Councilmember Binda was opposed to having a police officer present, stating, “There wasn’t a time up until now when we needed security at City Hall.”
“I just think that it’s not necessary, and for the community members that do feel uncomfortable, it’s important that their voices are heard as well,” Councilmember Binda said.
Councilmember Sessions argued that while last year’s incident was “extreme,” it was not the first time that council needed security and “won’t be the last time.”
The council ultimately moved on without making a decision to allow an opportunity to consult with Police Chief Nelson to hear his take at a later date.