Lynnwood mayor vetoes council’s scrapping of car tab fees

The council needs five votes to override the veto. At last week’s meeting, the council only had four votes for the ordinance.

LYNNWOOD — The Lynnwood City Council and mayor again are facing off over the city’s vehicle license fees.

Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell on Monday vetoed the ordinance that would eliminate its $40 fee by Jan. 1. The council had approved the ordinance in a 4-2 votelast week.

“Vehicle license fees are a fair and equitable funding source for our city streets,” Frizzell told the council while reading from prepared remarks. “In this way, vehicle owners who drive on our streets and contribute to the deterioration directly subsidize the ongoing maintenance and long-term care of our roads through these fees.”

No one else spoke about the car tab fee decisions at the council meeting Monday night.

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

A similar drama — the council passing an ordinance to end collecting $40 car tab fees and a mayoral veto — played out a year ago. At that time, Nicola Smith was mayor. She issued the veto, which survived when the council couldn’t muster the five votes required to override it.

Council President George Hurst, who proposed the ordinance last year and supported a similar cut before, plans to seek a veto override at the council’s meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14.

There’s some intrigue as one council member, Josh Binda, abstained from voting on the car tab elimination ordinance. Assuming the other six council members vote the same as they did last week, Binda could swing the decision should he back the measure by voting to override the veto..

Hurst has said scrapping the city’s car tab fees is in line with what voters approved in 2019 in Initiative 976 that purported to cap car tab fees at $30. Following a legal challenge, the state Supreme Court overturned the measure as unconstitutional. Hurst also has proposed funding the road work from elsewhere, such as the general fund which pays for most of the city government operations.

Lynnwood collects money for transportation projects from a 0.1% sales tax and vehicle registration through a Transportation Benefit District (TBD). 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.

Car tab fees accounted for $1.3 million in revenue in 2020. The city council has transferred $2 million from the general fund into its streets budget every year.

Earlier this year, the city council approved using $2.5 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act money for “immediate needs” on residential streets. Frizzell called the council’s car tab fee ordinance a reversal of that decision and “damages our community for years to come.”

That amount falls short of of covering all of the needed transportation work projected to cost between $13.5 million and $22.6 million each biennium, according to city staff reports to the council.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037;; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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