The Municipal Building’s main sign is pictured Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, in Cheyenne. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne City Council voted unanimously Monday night to create an affordable housing task force in a step toward finding solutions for one of Cheyenne’s biggest problems.

Including stakeholders from across the community, like housing-focused nonprofits and groups such as the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, the task force will complete a housing study, evaluate current programs and policies, and provide recommendations to the city with ways to solve some of the housing problems.

“This will bring people from different fields together to take a long, hard look, put pen to paper, and formulate some solutions that the task force thinks would help,” Councilman Jeff White said, adding that the idea was born from a conversation with officials with Habitat for Humanity of Laramie County.

Housing expenses remain a problem for income brackets across Laramie County, as high demand has notably increased the prices of homes in recent years. Habitat for Humanity works to address those issues and provide shelter for residents in need, and as White said, finding solutions will take a public-private partnership.

The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Housing Study found that the largest shortage of housing over the next few years will be for individuals making between $35,000 and $50,000. That demand for affordable housing is also reflected in Cheyenne Housing Authority programs.

As of fall 2019, the Housing Authority managed 266 affordable housing units and provided about 1,000 housing vouchers.

More than 1,000 households were on the waiting list for those public housing units, and more than 2,000 households were waiting for vouchers at that time.

“The shortage of decent, safe, sanitary and affordable housing creates significant challenges for low-income households, and this cost burden makes many households vulnerable to health hazards, eviction, foreclosures and homelessness,” the resolution reads.

It continues, “The city of Cheyenne desires to study existing conditions, project future needs, evaluate current programs and initiatives, and study nationwide best practices in order to determine appropriate solutions.”

The task force will be expected to present its findings and suggestions to the governing body by Aug. 1.

Revoking and suspending liquor licenses

The council approved changes to its liquor license revocation ordinance that give the city more power to suspend or revoke liquor licenses when wrongdoings occur.

Previously, the city had to wait to suspend or revoke a business’s liquor license until the time of renewal, which happens once a year. So if, for example, an establishment was serving alcohol to minors, the city couldn’t do anything to immediately stop it.

“This ordinance change fixes that and allows for an action to occur at any time when a violation occurs,” City Attorney Mike O’Donnell said.

Now, the city clerk can begin proceedings to suspend or revoke a license with a violation of any law or order relating to the sale or manufacture of alcoholic liquor or malt beverages. Previously, the ordinance said the violation of any state statutes would be reason to consider suspension or revocation, which would have included public health orders. Before passing, it was amended to only cover violations related to serving alcohol.

For businesses that have their license suspended or revoked, a hearing will be carried out upon request.

Saving on bonds

The city approved the refinancing of a 2012 bond series to take advantage of significantly lower interest rates, with City Treasurer Robin Lockman and her team leading the charge.

The interest rates on the previous bond series sat between 2.35% and 2.8%, and the rates for the 2021 series – totaling $5,445,000 – are between 0.3% and 1.03%.

“The city will realize a significant net savings in interest costs with the refunding in the amount of $414,824 over the term of the bonds,” Lockman said.

The bonds originally went out in 1994 for the George Cox Parking Structure. In 2003, the balance of those bonds was retired, and the city paid for construction costs for the Spiker parking garage with a 2003 bond series. Those bonds were refinanced in 2012, and were refinanced again by the council Monday night.

“A savings of $414,000 may not seem like a lot, but in our current situation, every penny counts, and I really appreciate the time and the effort you put into this, looking out for the city’s best interest,” Councilwoman Michelle Aldrich said.

Piercing and tattooing changes for minors

The council approved an ordinance change that prohibits the tattooing or piercing of minors’ genitalia and nipples. As originally proposed by Aldrich, the measure would have removed exemptions for ear piercing and raised the standards for big box stores like Claire’s, that local tattoo and piercing shops already follow.

“My concern is the health and safety issue, and I don’t believe that we should be giving a preference or preferential treatment to big box stores over our local business owners,” Aldrich said.

However, Council Vice President Ken Esquibel proposed an amendment that would strike those changes and focus the ordinance on preventing changes to minors’ genitals. Councilman Richard Johnson agreed, saying there is no evidence that any infections or other negative effects have occurred from ear piercings at places like Claire’s in the last 30 years.

Esquibel’s amendment passed, with Aldrich, Jeff White and Pete Laybourn voting no. The amended ordinance was unanimously approved.

Approving road projects

The council approved two contracts with Knife River totaling just over $3.4 million for road overlays and concrete work from sixth-penny sales tax funds.

The first project will cover Bowie Drive, King Arthur Way, Ogden Road, Point Bluff and Ten Sleep Drive – north of Dell Range and near Anderson Elementary. The second project will cover Central Avenue from Deming Drive to 11th Street. Both are part of the city’s pavement management plan.

Tackling dark money in politics

The council approved a resolution proposing that Congress amend the United States Constitution to clarify the distinction between the rights of natural persons and the rights of corporations, unions and other legal entities. The resolution doesn’t have power on its own, but Wyoming Promise, the advocacy group that pushed the resolution, said it could push the state to join others in the request to Congress.

“I fully recognize that this is something that probably won’t make a huge difference,” Laybourn said. “But the difference is that we’re speaking up, and we’re saying that our elections matter, and we want to see accountability in those contributions.”

Ultimately, the group hopes enough states come together to push Congress to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political communications by corporations.

Councilmen Richard Johnson and Mark Rinne were the only no votes. Both said they didn’t believe it would have any tangible effect on the funding of political campaigns.

Rinne also said he’s enjoyed that the council has “managed to concentrate on local decisions and what’s best for Cheyenne, and we’ve stayed out of divisive national issues.”

This story was originally published online at WyomingNews.com and on the free WyoNews app at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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