During a work session Tuesday, the Laramie City Council and city staff reviewed progress made in the first half of the year toward goals it established during a retreat last January.
Much of the progress appeared to be influenced by local, statewide and national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the city was forced to radically shift its attentions during the crisis. The following topics were reviewed during the session.
HOLISTIC ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
City Manager Janine Jordan met with the consultant group 4th Economy and Laramie Chamber Business Alliance Director Brad Enzi in January to discuss potential updates to the Thrive economic development plan. The plan was initially adopted by the city in January 2020.
The intention was to update the plan to reflect a post-pandemic economy. However, after consideration, it was decided to postpone updating the plan. The current plan is available to the public on the city of Laramie website.
“It might not be the time to update, because it’s not clear yet whether we are in a post-COVID economy,” Jordan said.
Jordan noted an important aspect of this goal was to meet with University of Wyoming leadership to discuss deeper collaboration between the city and the university. City officials met with UW President Ed Seidel to present the Thrive plan, and the university is currently reviewing the ideas.
“We needed to do better … to make sure that we had a plan that encompassed the University of Wyoming, and recognize the unique role that Laramie holds as the home of that institution,” Jordan said.
Additionally, the city set a goal to improve primary retail corridors, and including public-private partnerships in these efforts. City leadership explained this goal has largely been put on hold because of the uncertainties of COVID-19.
“But, I haven’t let go of this goal,” Jordan said. She further explained there have been major efforts and progress focused on working with the private owners of the old Kmart building, located at the intersection of Third and Harney streets.
The city of Laramie also set a goal to review methods for improving resident housing opportunities. Through a development code audit, city staff is currently preparing municipal code changes for City Council consideration with the hopes that they will affect housing opportunities.
Environmental stewardship was a major part of the City Council's goal-setting for 2021.
It initially intended to review policies for retail-use plastic bags. These efforts came to a screeching halt due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 recommendations. However, during the next several months, city marketing interns will increase public awareness about ways that residents can curb their use of plastic bags.
The city also set forth a goal to monitor and address Laramie River sedimentation interventions. Public Works installed two gutter bins in the downtown area as a pilot program to address this issue, and continues to monitor the benefits of the product.
City Council also intended to continue renewable energy installations at city facilities. In response, the Recreation and Ice & Event Center solar projects were completed with a “Solar Celebration” on June 10.
According to Jordan, the city is in the early planning stages for solar installation at Fire Station No. 3 or the Police Department. The project would utilize Blue Sky grant funds. Further, several city buildings have been retrofitted with more energy efficient items. Two hybrid police vehicles were acquired to replace older gas-only vehicles. Additionally, the wastewater treatment plant project is at 60% design completion, and the city anticipates that it will see more than 20% savings in electrical usage when this project is completed.
Finally, the city wanted to consider an expansion of recycling services. Although Jordan stated not much progress was made yet on that front, there will be a glass recycling bunker constructed this summer.
IMPROVEMENT OF SERVICES
The city of Laramie’s first goal to maintain and improve city services was to update its resource planning software, which would improve customer service and lower the cost of city government.
“This software is the guts and soul of city operations,” Jordan said. The city is currently in the vendor selection process for the software product, and plans to bring a proposed contract to the City Council in the fall of this year.
Another goal of City Council was to strengthen the city’s ability to recruit and retain highly qualified staff members through improved compensation packages.
“We want to be an employer of choice so that we can attract the best and brightest,” Jordan said. An updated labor contract was successfully negotiated, agreed to and ratified by the City Council in June. The updated package includes an optional retirement match program.
The city also set forth the goal to acquire additional recreational and open space east of Laramie for aquifer protection. This is known as the Pilot Hill Project, and the city continues to support efforts to develop a trailhead, include parking, restrooms and more informational signage.
IMPROVEMENT OF INFRASTRUCTURE
The city of Laramie has attempted to maintain pavement conditions throughout the community through various construction projects. These projects include the 15th Street, 11th Street, and 30th and Reynolds streets intersections that are being reconstructed through this summer. Additionally, roads will be chip-sealed throughout the summer.
In its efforts to explore stormwater sustainability and functionality for current and future residents, the city contracted with professional services to assist in evaluation and determination of viable options. This work will continue through the winter, and the research findings will likely be brought to City Council next spring.
City staff and council have also worked on continuing the expansion of the greenbelt, parks and recreation amenities. These projects include working toward the Rotary Club Park at Grand View Heights, replacing the playground at Undine Park and considering a potential connecting path to West Laramie.
The city of Laramie also continues to work on a suite of four projects, which are necessary to allow housing development in northeast Laramie. These efforts largely include sewer redesign.
“All of our infrastructure goals and milestones represent around $50 million in investment in the community,” Jordan said.
While a number of city goals and projects were reevaluated or put on hold because of the pandemic, the city of Laramie continues to chip away at an enormous slate of priorities. It also intends to increase intergovernmental collaboration, which would include a review of emergency medical services in Laramie and Albany County.