Divided council leaves Lynnwood vehicle license fee in place

Mayor Christine Frizzell vetoed a council measure to ditch the fee. An attempt to override her action came up short.


LYNNWOOD — An effort to erase the city’s $40-a-year vehicle license fee has failed, again.

City Council members opposed to the assessment lacked enough votes Monday to overcome Mayor Christine Frizzell’s veto of an ordinance to end collections in 2023.

The council deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to override the veto with members George Hurst, Patrick Decker and Jim Smith in favor, while Shannon Sessions, Julieta Altamirano-Crosby and Josh Binda were opposed. Council Member Shirley Sutton was absent.

Hurst, Decker, Smith and Sutton passed the ordinance last month. They needed a fifth council member’s vote to counter Frizzell’s action.

Taking this money away would “dramatically” hurt the city’s ability to carry out major infrastructure improvements required as Lynnwood grows and builds its downtown core, Sessions said.

“I think it’s irresponsible,” she said of repealing the vehicle fee. “It’s a small price to pay for the amount of benefit that it gets this community.”

Hurst, the council president, authored both the ordinance and the override motion.

“I’ve always opposed the fees,” he said, in part because they were levied by the council rather than through a public vote.

Lynnwood collects money for transportation projects from a 0.1% sales tax and vehicle registration through a Transportation Benefit District. The city’s $40 car tab fee is on top of the annual state fee and is decided by the council, which also governs the transportation district.

Lynnwood is one of roughly 110 cities in Washington with a transportation benefit district. It is one of only eight, Hurst said, that has both a transportation sales tax and vehicle license fee.

“We are an outlier,” he said. “That concerns me.”

In 2020, the city’s transportation benefit district received $1.3 million in vehicle registration fees plus nearly $2.5 million in sales tax proceeds.

City staff estimate the fees alone will generate about $2.3 million in the next two-year budget to pay for work on crosswalks, curb ramps, roads, sidewalks and traffic signals.

A similar drama — the council acting to scrap the fee followed by a mayoral veto and failed override vote — played out a year ago. At that time, Nicola Smith was mayor and Frizzell was a council member who helped uphold her action.

On Monday, there was some intrigue ahead of the final vote.

Hurst, citing Sutton’s absence, made a motion to delay action for two weeks until all council members could be present. The vote was tied 3-3 and Frizzell cast the deciding fourth vote against a postponement.

The conversation then shifted to the veto override measure.

Entering Monday’s meeting, Binda was the one unknown because he had abstained from voting on the car tab elimination ordinance in October. That meant he represented the potential fifth vote for an override.

Binda said he abstained in October because he wanted to gather more information on options for making up revenue if they got rid of the fees.

“I have not been convinced that there would be a better alternative than the car tab fees,” he said Monday. “It truly makes sense that people who are driving on Lynnwood roads are paying for the roads as well.”

And to those who argued it is too much money, he said, “If anyone in our community was struggling to pay $40 car tab fees each year I think that’s a bigger issue in our community that we need to solve.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dospueblos.

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