CHEYENNE – A joint sixth-penny committee comprised of representatives from five municipalities in Thursday agreed – mostly – on how to package together the large list of projects on next May’s ballot.
Meeting at the Burns town hall, the group of representatives from Burns, Albin, Pine Bluffs, Cheyenne and Laramie County agreed on leaving four sixth-penny projects to stand alone on the ballot. They agreed to package 43 other projects together into five lists, each worth about $12 million total, to be voted on separately by county residents.
The packaging options were compiled by the Align consulting firm, which has been helping to steer the sixth-penny joint committee through its deliberations. In accordance with committee members’ earlier requests, Align created the packages to reflect geographic diversity, as well as to avoid lumping together projects of the same general purpose.
Specifically, Align created two sets of package options. One pulled out all the public safety infrastructure projects – such as two new fire stations for Laramie County and a fire station replacement in Cheyenne – and placed them into their own package. The second option instead spread those projects across the rest of the packages.
Most members of the joint committee agreed the second packaging option made more sense, with several noting that by putting critical public safety infrastructure in with items like recreational amenities, voters may be more inclined to support the full list of projects.
“When you look at a big $7 million project in there like the (Cheyenne) city (gymnasium and indoor sports facility) – when you add those big projects to a group, I think that puts them in jeopardy,” said County Commissioner Troy Thompson. “But by adding public safety in those groups, it makes the groups more appealing to voters.”
But Thompson’s fellow county representative on the committee, Commissioner Amber Ash, was the sole committee member to bristle at the idea. Ash said she felt it wasn’t fair to the voters to pair absolute necessities with amenities they simply may not want to pay for.
“Grouping them in an effort to try to get projects passed we don’t think are strong enough to stand on their own is wrong,” Ash said. “I think they should be categorized according to types of services, and they’re either strong enough to go forward or they’re not. But trying to manipulate the outcome of the election by arrangement of the ballot is not right.”
Mark Rinne, one of Cheyenne’s two representatives on the committee, objected to that characterization, noting that every project on the sixth-penny list is considered important to its respective municipality. Thompson agreed, countering that he likewise didn’t agree it would be fair to put public safety items into their own separate package but lump everything else together.
“I don’t think it’s manipulating the ballot,” he said. “It’s putting together a ballot that looks appealing to the voter.”
Ash conceded that she was only one voice of 10 on the committee. She agreed to allow the packaging to move forward, but said she had wanted to get her objections on the record.
The four standalone projects on the ballot will remain the same as determined in the committee’s last meeting. They include: the Christensen Road overpass connecting the north and south parts of east Cheyenne for $15 million; an extensive renovation of the county courthouse and adding new space for Cheyenne’s Municipal Court for $21 million; county jail renovations and expansion for $16 million; and a new complex for the Laramie County Fair at $9.9 million.
As for how Cheyenne’s other projects were distributed among the five packages, the first includes $2.5 million to create trails and open public access to Cheyenne’s Belvoir Ranch, $4 million for replacing Cheyenne’s Fire Station 5 and $3.2 million to purchase land for a future community park in east Cheyenne.
Group two includes $7.05 million for a new city gymnasium and $3 million for fire station renovations and equipment refurbishment.
Group three includes $6.75 million for an indoor multiuse sports facility – the only Cheyenne project in that group, along with five other projects from Albin, Burns, Pine Bluffs and Laramie County.
Group four includes $2.35 million in funding for Cheyenne’s downtown core – including several alleyway renovations – and $3.8 million to expand the Greater Cheyenne Greenway.
The fifth and final group also has just one Cheyenne project: $4 million in funding for the ongoing West Edge revitalization and drainage project. As an example of how projects are being packaged, the fifth group also includes $2 million for a new fire station for Laramie County Fire District 2, $300,000 in street maintenance in Pine Bluffs, $200,000 to replace a water line in Albin and $400,000 in improvements to Burns’ water and sewer systems.
With the packaging now determined, the next step for the sixth-penny committee will be to work out specific ballot language for each of the projects on the list. Committee members agreed to visit with their own municipalities’ staff to work out sample language, which will be introduced at the committee’s next meeting.