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Cheyenne's Municipal Building. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – As city leaders grapple with hard budget cuts for fiscal year 2021 – cutting employees and reducing line items to the bone – a number of local agencies pleaded their cases for why they need city funding at a budget meeting Wednesday night.

For agencies like Peak Wellness Center, Safe Harbor and Laramie County Senior Services, the 100% proposed cut to programs like Safe Harbor’s Child Advocacy Center is “nothing short of devastating,” according to Director Lynn Huylar.

“It’s important to be able to provide for the most vulnerable of this city’s population. They don’t have a voice – many of these children can’t speak,” Huylar said.

Initially facing an $8 million budget deficit due to falling revenue, city leaders had to make tough decisions, including laying off 17 staff members and cutting an additional 15 vacant positions. After extensive discussions and a number of budget work sessions, the final proposed budget for 2021 came out at $50,514,935, down 10%, or $5,559,414, from fiscal year 2020.

Programs like Peak Wellness’s Alcohol Receiving Center, the senior center’s nutritional program and the Child Advocacy Center will be severely impacted by a lack of city funding, but the City Council still has time to reevaluate the fiscal year 2021 budget that will be approved in June.

After hearing from Huylar about the importance of children-specific forensic interviewing carried out by the Child Advocacy Center, Councilman Bryan Cook said, “I can tell you firsthand how essential forensic interviewing is to children and families and child protection and law enforcement in our communities, and I think we need to look long and hard before we cut this service.”

Facing a cut worth just under $20,000, Huylar said the Safe Harbor program would lose about 20% of its overall budget, a portion of which it puts toward grants that require a local match. Nonprofits have been hit “tremendously” by the COVID-19 crisis, both decreasing the funding coming in and increasing demand for services.

“In just the past two and a half months, I have lost $30,000 in potential funding, and I only see that number growing as the days go on,” Huylar said.

When the school year starts back up again this fall, Huylar said they expect to see even more cases that require their forensic interviewing services, as kids reconnect with trustworthy adults at school who they can report abuse to.

“We know when this pandemic is over, we will see an increase,” Huylar said.

For the Alcohol Receiving Center at Peak Wellness – which provides detox beds, peer support and crisis management to residents suffering from substance abuse – the proposed $115,000 cut would take away 47% of their budget. In a similar position as Safe Harbor, Peak Wellness’ Heidi McNeil said the COVID-19 crisis, “clearly has not reduced the rate of these detox programs.”

Peak Wellness partners with law enforcement and Cheyenne Regional Medical Center to assist those dealing with substance abuse and to allow those entities to utilize their resources. Last year, they assisted 272 clients at no personal cost.

“In addition to our own personal funding at the facility, the budgetary costs and the stresses that this imposes on the detention center and the hospital comes with an astonishing cost to the community and the resources as a whole. This cost is something that our social detox facility helps to reduce,” McNeil said.

Without any continued funding to the Alcohol Receiving Center, McNeil said it may be difficult to provide these resources and services to the community.

Looking at the cuts to Laramie County Senior Services, which is run through the Cheyenne Housing Authority, Director Erin LeBlanc said they’ll lose the ability to provide 13,000 meals to low-income seniors though their nutritional program, which is the largest program in the agency.

Normally, they receive $50,000 each year from the city to help provide 3,500 nutritionist-approved meals to seniors each month. But the proposed budget allocates no funding.

“The seniors rely on our nutrition program. For some, this may be their only meal of the day,” LeBlanc said.

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the demand for meals from senior services has increased around 79%.

“Of course, we’ve seen effects to some of our other senior programs, as well. So we’re respectfully requesting that the City Council could reevaluate its budget priorities and restore the funding to the Laramie County Senior Center.”

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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