Lynnwood gets about $1 million per year from car-tab fees, which fund preservation, capital projects and street maintenance like this road work along 196th Street SW. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Lynnwood gets about $1 million per year from car-tab fees, which fund preservation, capital projects and street maintenance like this road work along 196th Street SW. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Lynnwood’s $40 vehicle license fee survives with mayoral veto

The Lynnwood City Council did not have the five votes necessary to undo Mayor Nicola Smith’s veto.

LYNNWOOD — After a close Lynnwood City Council vote in October, a mayoral veto last week and a failed try to override the veto Monday, Lynnwood is set to keep collecting $40 car tab fees.

On Oct. 25 the council voted 4-3 to stop charging city-imposed vehicle registration fees, on top of the state’s base charges, for city road work by 2023.

Lynnwood gets about $1 million per year from the fees, which pays for street maintenance, preservation and capital projects.

Mayor Nicola Smith, who did not seek re-election, had 10 days to sign the ordinance, veto it, or let it take effect without her signature. At 7:09 p.m. Nov. 3, nine days after the council’s vote, she emailed council members her veto.

“After careful consideration of Ordinance 3400 adopted by Council on Oct. 25, I am exercising my authority to veto this decision,” Smith wrote in the email. “Eliminating vehicle license fees has far-reaching consequences that are not in the best interest of Lynnwood. Therefore, I am compelled to veto your decision based on the reasons outlined in the attached memo.”

Her three-page veto claims the council did not follow its “budgeting best practices” when it voted to suspend car tab collections, did not know the outcomes of losing $1 million in dedicated funds annually, circumvented the budgetary authority of a council with two new members in January, and further hindered funding for the city’s sidewalks and streets amid financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Council President George Hurst called for the council to override the veto but did not secure the five votes required.

“I would hope we’re going to provide more funding for roads,” he said before the roll call vote. “I think we can do it without this vehicle fee.”

Every council member voted the same as they did Oct. 25 with Councilmembers Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, Patrick Decker, Jim Smith and Hurst backing the override. Councilmembers Christine Frizzell, Ruth Ross, and Shannon Sessions voted against it.

Smith, who was trailing Frizzell in the mayoral election, disputed Mayor Smith’s claims that the council had acted outside its standard process.

“The council has the authority to do what we did and we’ll keep doing it until we get done what we need to be done,” he said.

Similar to Hurst, he said he hopes the city pays for road work only out of its general fund, which is the main pot that covers services such as administration, municipal court, parks, and police.

Frizzell disagreed and said she backed the mayor’s veto because the council did not adhere to steps outlined in council roles or in a strategic plan.

During public comment, Rick Michels told the council he supported the end of Lynnwood’s $40 registration fee.

“I trust these men and these people that voted to rescind it,” he said. “I believe there are people that need this money. We need to learn how to live within our means.”

Naz Lashgari urged the council to keep the fee. Lashgari, who trailed Decker in the city council Position 2 election, said in her work with “economically disadvantaged members of our community” she did not see $40 a year as a “significant impact for an individual.”

“I know that people, regardless of where they live, like to have their roads maintained so they don’t drive in the streets with potholes that damage their cars,” Lashgari said.

Brock Howell, Snohomish County Transportation Coalition director, said the city needs safe and accessible streets for its aging residents and those with disabilities.

Lynnwood aims to address 776 curb ramps that do not meet accessibility standards through its pavement management plan in the next 20 to 25 years, according to its ADA Transition Plan. In the past two years, the city addressed access barriers, such as inadequate curb ramps and sidewalks, at 32 intersections.

“Simply put without this funding basic improvements to Lynnwood streets would not be possible,” Howell said.

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

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