When it comes time to renew the sixth-penny sales tax, we don’t envy the challenges faced by our local elected officials.
Many people have a hand out, hoping to get their project on the ballot, and no matter what you decide, some people are going to be unhappy.
There are always more projects that need to get done than there is room on the approximately $140 million ballot placed before voters every four to five years.
Then there’s how to structure the ballot itself. How do you best group the projects that make the final cut in a way that makes sense to the voter and doesn’t feel like ballot manipulation?
Although we’re sure some people are unhappy their project didn’t make the list this year, we think Laramie County commissioners, Cheyenne City Council members and Mayor Patrick Collins deserve a round of applause for the work they did in creating this year’s ballot. When voters start casting absentee or early votes Sept. 17, or when they go to the polls Nov. 2, the 14 decisions they will be asked to make are as clear and well-organized as they could possibly be.
They also will set the tone for the next five to 10 years in Laramie County, and help shape the kinds of communities we all live in and their success or failure going forward.
Let’s start with the way the ballot is structured. In a break from the past – and with the acknowledgement from our elected leaders that they listened to previous criticism from this newspaper’s editorial board and others – there are no mixed “apples and oranges” propositions this year. Instead, they are grouped into four categories: public safety, roads, infrastructure and community enhancements.
The first two are pretty self-explanatory, but Laramie County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gunnar Malm explained the clear difference between infrastructure and community enhancements using the Greater Cheyenne Greenway as an example:
The $2.5 million allocated under Proposition 7 is categorized as infrastructure because it’s for maintaining the existing 40+ miles of 10-foot-wide concrete paths that make up the Greenway system. The $3.5 million in Proposition 8 would be to further expand that system into new neighborhoods as the city continues to expand, so that makes it a community enhancement.
This is just one example of how much thought went into developing this year’s sixth-penny ballot, and how focused the committee that developed it was on transparency.
The other good thing about the ballot’s structure is that even though there are a lot of separate propositions to vote on, officials pulled out some of the larger, potentially more controversial requests into standalone measures. That way, if Laramie County voters decide not to support them, they don’t drag a group of smaller, critical infrastructure projects down with them.
That’s what happened in 2017, when lack of voter support for a new indoor turf facility and an indoor gymnasium led to the defeat of much-needed fire station rehabilitation, county radio equipment and at least 10 rural town or county projects.
Thankfully, this year, elected officials decided not to let that happen again. Instead, voters will be asked to decide individually on the following community enhancement projects:
- $10.15 million for a new Laramie County Senior Activity Center
- $6 million for downtown Cheyenne improvements and infrastructure maintenance
- $2 million for a new city gymnastics facility and gymnasium to replace the old one being sold to the school district
- $3.5 million to help with large projects, such as filling the downtown “hole,” the former Hitching Post Inn remediation, access to the Belvoir Ranch and the Reed Avenue Corridor
- $3 million to fund matching grant opportunities for the city of Cheyenne
- $2.25 million to cover the city’s portion of the minimum revenue guarantee required to attract commercial air service to Cheyenne Regional Airport
For the record, we think all of these are worthy projects, and we plan to vote in favor of each of them. But if the majority of voters don’t like something, at least they can reject them without impacting something else.
Other standalone projects include $15.76 million for three Cheyenne Fire Rescue stations and $14 million for city road maintenance projects. Mr. Malm said the latter proposal points to the need for additional funding sources for basic infrastructure work as state funding continues to decline.
It used to be that “the fifth penny is for roads, and the sixth penny is for larger projects,” such as a new county library, expansion of the jail or the Christensen Road overpass. But since state lawmakers continue to depend on revenue from the flagging minerals industries, cities, towns and counties must develop their own.
Which brings us to some of the small-town and county needs contained in the other propositions on this year’s sixth-penny ballot. This includes $1.7 million in Proposition 7 for Albin to complete expansion of a mobile home/RV park, which will provide essential housing for workers in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska. It includes $1.5 million to Pine Bluffs to relocate a railroad crossing that will allow for much-needed development and expansion of the town on the Nebraska border.
And in an effort to look ahead five to 10 years, county commissioners are seeking a little more than $3 million for street and infrastructure upgrades at Division Avenue and Wallick Road that will better prepare it for housing development south of the city limits and west of South Greeley Highway.
All in all, this list of projects totals $130 million, which will be collected from residents and visitors alike over the next several years as we continue to pay a sales tax we’re already paying – and have for years. Thanks to the diligence of our elected leaders, we’re confident it will be money well spent.