3rd Street reconstruction

Contactors work on a project to update the water infrastructure along 3rd Street in Laramie on Wednesday. The project will close three blocks of 3rd Street at a time and will carry on into fall.

City of Laramie staff and council members have been working to confirm the allocation of $242 million to cover the upcoming biennium for fiscal years 2023 to 2024.

The city’s capital construction budget will make up the majority of expenditures, said Malae Brown, the city’s chief operating officer0. The remaining money will go to areas such as fire, parks, public works, water and wastewater management and staffing.

The city will use its proposed $80 million general fund for traditional services like fire, parks and public works. Money for these areas come from sources such as state and local taxes and direct distributions from the state of Wyoming.

At a rate of $258.33 per resident, Albany County is one of the lowest-ranking counties in Wyoming for sales tax collections. Last year, the majority of sales tax revenue came from online and mail order sales, said City Manager Janine Jordan.

As time goes on, the city has been successful in making sure its expenditures don’t exceed revenues, Jordan said. Still, Laramie has traditionally relied on direct distributions from the state to fill budget gaps because of its low tax base.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city also has taken in additional money from federal programs like the American Rescue Plan Act and the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The city expects to see more federal and state money in the coming years earmarked for critical infrastructure and lost revenue replacement.

Emergency services

Money for city police services, which includes record keeping and Animal Control, makes up 23% of the general fund budget. Fire and emergency medical services account for 21%.

The city’s fire and emergency services is asking for an additional $200,000 to go toward a paramedic pilot program that could help with staffing issues in the department. The change would allow for paramedics to be incorporated into the EMS team.

“The call load is going up,” said Laramie Fire Chief Dan Johnson. “We’ve been handling that but we’re exposed to failure with lack of staffing when we’re responding to these calls.”

In 2016, total annual emergency calls were coming in around 3,700. Last year, that number increased to 4,600 calls.

Emergency situations can become more dangerous for staff members and civilians if there aren’t enough people available to respond to calls effectively, Johnson said. The situation is especially risky if multiple calls happen at once.

“We’re trying a lot of creative ways to deal with the staffing situation in the fire department,” Jordan said.

The city also is working to improve its staffing situation across its departments by increasing wages by 3% to adjust for cost of living and planning to pursue further wage adjustments and staffing programs in the future.

Recreation Center

Finances at the Laramie Recreation Center were hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing city staff members to raise alarm about the center’s economic viability.

The decades-old center has years of deferred maintenance on top of a need to continue making improvements to see usage rates remain high, Jordan said. On top of that, staff members have been struggling to meet service demands as employee numbers wane.

The recommended budget includes about $1 million to be deferred from the general fund to the center in both 2023 and 2024. Some of the budget will go toward renovating the aquatics center, building a family friendly area with a climbing feature and hang out space, and making the fitness area more inviting. About $15,000 is earmarked for making the center’s website more user friendly and relevant for modern users.

City council members discussed proposing a 7th cent tax to increase revenue for the Rec Center. Otherwise, the facility may have to contract hours of operation or offer fewer amenities to survive financially. The city also may seek federal pandemic relief money for the center.

“The conversation in the community really needs to be around the real choices,” Weaver said. “If it’s not the 7th penny, there needs to be an understanding of what that really means.”

Water & Waste

The city’s water fund comes to about $48 million in FY 2023 and $20 million in 2024. For the wastewater fund, the totals are $32 million and $10 million, respectively.

Revenue for water resources comes from utility rates charged to residents. The city now has five to six months of reserves built into the fund, which gives the city the ability to keep utility rates consistent when large improvement efforts come along such as the North Side Tank Project, Jordan said.

“Keeping a lot of reserve balance is insurance against saying, ‘Well, folks, we have a lot of work to do now and we’re hitting you with a huge rate increase,’” Mayor Paul Weaver said.

There will be about $900,000 in increases in the water fund each of the next two years. Among a range of requests, some were related to upkeep and fees for the Bath Ranch, a purchase City Council voted to move forward on in March.

Laramie City Council will meet again to discuss the budget at 6 p.m. May 24.

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