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Monday, March 20, 2017

Not all sixth-penny projects are created equal

Some of the propositions that will go before voters here on May 2 should be rejected. Absentee balloting begins Thursday. Here's how I plan to vote.


More information on the sixth-penny ballot can be found at http://www.laramiecounty.com/SixthPenny.aspx


By D. Reed Eckhardt

When reviewing the projects on the sixth-penny sales tax ballot, one thing becomes crystal clear: This set of proposals has become a Christmas tree on which too many agencies have hung too many projects, bloating the total to more than $118 million. If all of the nine propositions are
The Laramie County Library was a sixth-penny project OK'd in 2003.
passed, it will take more than six years to collect all the sales tax revenue, which will drive up the costs on most of these projects as inflation takes over. That also will delay other important projects, such as the development of the city's Belvoir Ranch

An example of the impacts of a long-term sixth-penny ballot is the expansion of the Botanic Garden in Cheyenne, approved by the voters in 2012. When voted on, it was estimated that the work would cost $16 million. Bids came in much higher than that, so the Gardens has had to turn to cost-cutting and fundraising to meet the project's overall costs.

And some of the proposed sixth-penny money is being misused in these projects. The plan to spend about $6 million of these one-time funds on Cheyenne's streets is sleight of hand designed to fool Cheyenne voters. It will do nothing to solve the city's streets problems, which are a recurring expense. The current deficit is more than $3.5 million per year, and that only will grow over time. This sixth-penny project is a misuse of public funds that tries to pacify the voters who approved "streets" candidates, like new Mayor Marian Orr and Ward 1 council member Pete Laybourn, last November.

Similarly, the proposal to spend $10 million on a multipurpose building for Laramie County's Archer complex east of Cheyenne is another fool's mission. It is designed -- at its heart -- to create a one-site home for the Laramie County Fair. Yet the fair is not an integral part of life for the vast majority of county residents, who live in Cheyenne. They, and their budgets, are so burned out after Cheyenne Frontier  Days that the fair is not even an afterthought. This project squanders $10 million to please a narrow segment of county residents, even though it has been sold as a quality of life project for the entire county. 

Here is how I intend to vote when I go to the polls:

Proposition 1 -- $18 million
-- Laramie County Courthouse remodeling to, among other things, make space for a fourth district court judge, $9 million.
-- Build Municipal Court building or court addition at the Municipal Building, 2010 O'Neil Ave., $9 million.
My vote: Yes
Why: Caseloads continue to grow in this county's courts, delaying justice and lengthening the timelines of civil suits. A fourth judge has been approved by the Legislature with the stipulation that space be made in the County Courthouse. That expansion has forced Cheyenne's Municipal Court out of the county complex. Thus, the $9 million that will go to the city.

Proposition 2 -- $16.2 million
-- Expansion of Laramie County Jail.
My vote: No
Why: A jail expansion approved in 2000 was supposed to meet this county's needs for years to come. Instead, the cells are full. So it ever more shall be. Killing this proposition will force county officials to figure out new ways of doing their criminal justice business other than packing the jail.

Proposition 3 -- $15 million
-- Construct Christensen Road from Commerce Circle to U.S. 30, including a new bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad.
My vote: Yes
Why: Laramie County's growth is toward the east, yet there is no easy way to get there except through Cheyenne. This road and bridge will open up eastern Laramie County and better serve that area's needs both for residents and potential business. This just makes sense.

Proposition 4 -- $9.9 million 
-- Design, construct and equip a multi-purpose building at Laramie County's Archer Complex.
My vote: No
Why: As explained above, this effort to create a single county fairground will serve only a narrow segment of Laramie County's population. This area does need an events facility, but Archer is not the right location. It should be built in the county's population center -- Cheyenne.

Proposition 5 -- $11.97 million
-- Various projects for the smaller communities in eastern Laramie County, $3.8 million.
-- Street improvements in Cheyenne, $2.4 million.
-- Cheyenne Greenway expansion, $3.8 million.
-- Fire station at Archer to serve eastern Laramie County, $2 million.
My vote: Yes
Why: Even though I am adamantly opposed to using sixth-penny money for streets, I am not willing to take the Greenway down to prove my point. A new fire station for Laramie County also makes sense.

Proposition 6 -- 11.97 million
-- Multi-purpose indoor athletics facility for Cheyenne, $6.8 million.
-- Various projects for the smaller communities in eastern Laramie County, $1.7 million.
-- Radio towers and equipment to improve Laramie County radio coverage, 3.5 million.
My vote: Yes
Why: Cheyenne is leaking millions of dollars as parents travel to Fort Collins, Colorado, and elsewhere to get recreation opportunities for their children. This is a proven need that will pay off for the city in economic development and by adding an amenity for families. This is what the sixth penny was designed to do.

Proposition 7 -- $14.9 million
-- Various projects for the smaller communities in eastern Laramie County, $800,000.
-- Emergency services storage and medication distribution for Cheyenne/Laramie County Public Health, $1 million.
-- Gym facility at Cheyenne Ice and Events Center, $7.1 million.
-- Fire station and fire engine upgrades for Cheyenne, $6 million.
My vote: Yes
Why: The argument for this proposition is the same as the one for Proposition 6. It also is essential to keep the city's fire departments up to date.

Proposition 8 -- $8.8 million
-- Various projects for the smaller communities in eastern Laramie County, $1.1 million.
-- City of Pine Bluffs debt reduction, $1 million.
-- Street improvements for Cheyenne, $3.5 million.
-- Buy land for a future park in eastern Cheyenne, $3.2 million.
My vote: No
Why: Here is where I take my stand against using sixth-penny money for city streets. I also am not sold on spending $3.2 million for a Cheyenne park that may not be developed for a decade or more. This money should have gone to developing the Belvoir Ranch.

Proposition 9 -- $11.7 million
-- Various projects for the smaller communities in eastern Laramie County, $2.3 million.
-- Computer upgrades to allow all emergency and fire districts in Laramie County to operate on the same system as 911, $3 million.
-- New fire station for Laramie County District No. 2, $2 million.
-- Improvements in Cheyenne's West Edge project, $4 million.
-- Laramie County sheriff video and technology upgrades, $500,000.
My vote: Yes
Why: I was leaning toward a "no" vote here, but the money for the West Edge is essential if Cheyenne ever hopes to attract the young people and young families it says it wants. The West Edge, in combination with developing downtown, is key to this city's future. That makes a "yes" vote important here.

Total of my "yes" projects: $84 million.

D. Reed Eckhardt is the former executive editor at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

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