downtown FILE

A Cheyenne Police officer drives along Lincolnway on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in downtown Cheyenne. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – Most Cheyenne City council members do not support Mayor Marian Orr’s proposal to reduce Downtown Development Authority funding by 75% in fiscal year 2020.

The proposal would slash city funds to the DDA from $390,000 to $100,000, a startlingly deep cut that surprised even some agency critics. Orr and Councilman Pete Laybourn say funding the group is a waste of taxpayer money, troubled by a limited ability to measure DDA achievements each year.

But many council members said the city hasn’t tried hard enough to set clear goals for the economic development organization, nor has it given the board much direction at all.

“Council has not provided them with clear guidance on what we want to see,” said Jeff White, the council’s DDA board liaison. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell them what we want, then gut their resources to prevent them from doing it.”

Now, both parties are working on a Memorandum of Understanding to track sales tax, property tax and vacancy rates within the district over time to measure the DDA’s effectiveness.

“These are evidence-based measurements that are strong indicators of a successful economic climate in the downtown district,” said Councilman Dicky Shanor, who has drafted the document for the DDA board’s consideration. “So, if sales tax and property taxes are up and vacancy rates are down, generally that means the economic climate downtown is good.”

If these metrics reveal declining downtown vitality over time, some would consider more substantial cuts.

“I’ve been critical of the DDA in the past and, frankly, I feel that’s OK,” Councilman Bryan Cook said. “Many of us would like to see them accomplish more tangible results, but I really don’t see how such a dramatic cut is going to solve anything right now. How are they going to even be solvent moving forward?”

Everyone seems to have a slightly different vision for the DDA, but most agree more oversight is necessary.

“They’ve operated for a lot of years without direction, and if we can give them that and measure it every year to course correct, it’s a win for everyone,” Council President Rocky Case said. “They can’t continue to operate in a vacuum; there must be benchmarks and consequences for not meeting them.”

Case said he doesn’t expect the $100,000 proposal will make it through Committee of the Whole meetings, but he does think some cuts are inevitable.

“No one saw this coming, and now we have to find that money from somewhere else,” Case said. “I’ve asked the DDA to provide me with the amount of money they can continue to operate on, because we’re going to have to move money. And I can almost assure you that’s going to happen.”

Still, the city’s budget continues to tighten as other groups, such as the Cheyenne Animal Shelter, ask for more.

“The DDA needs to be able to tie their efforts directly to funding, whether that’s new events coming downtown or bringing more residential housing,” Cook said.

The council’s Committee of the Whole will continue budget talks at 6 p.m. May 22 and June 5 in City Council Chambers of the Municipal Building, 2101 O’Neil Ave.

The budget ordinance will be considered on third and final reading June 10.

Chrissy Suttles is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s business and health reporter. She can be reached at csuttles@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3183. Follow her on Twitter at @chrissysuttles.

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