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Cheyenne's Municipal Building. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – It’s done.

Cheyenne City Council members voted 8-0 Monday to approve a third and final reading with amendments of a $56 million proposed general fund budget for Fiscal Year 2020.

Council members Ken Esquibel and Mike Luna did not attend Monday’s meeting.

The general fund budget for FY 2020 is about 3% more than what was adopted for the current fiscal year. When counting the special revenue and other funds, the total budget comes to nearly $99 million.

Council members approved two late amendments to the now-approved FY 2020 budget.

Members approved a amendment, brought by Councilman Pete Laybourn, moving $10,344 that was not yet appropriated in the budget to the Cheyenne Police Department to continue Operation Change, a program that places officers on the ground for patrols to help address problems and connect homeless people with resources for help.

Money for the foot and bike patrols downtown came from a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017 and 2018, but additional funding to continue the project was no longer available, according to Cheyenne Police Department Capt. Nathan Buseck.

Under the program, citywide transient jail costs decreased from $224,250 in 2017 to $198,735 in 2018.

In addition, arrests of transients in the downtown area decreased dramatically in those two years, according to data from the 2018 police department report, from 102 in 2017 to 13 in 2018.

“This (program) really makes a difference,” Laybourn told council members. “The difference the program made was not just in dealing with people with problems, it made a difference in the atmosphere of the downtown area. When individuals saw a uniformed officer make his or her rounds through the downtown area, it just felt a little better.”

Laybourn’s original amendment to move $30,000 from city’s appropriation to the Downtown Development Agency to the police department was defeated. During the deliberation of that amendment, Councilman Scott Roybal brought up the idea of using the unappropriated funds, as well as a plan of possibly using funds set aside for graffiti cleanup to help continue Operation Change.

Council members had approved an amendment last week placing $297,500 into the economic/community development item, with $190,000 going to the Downtown Development Authority and $107,500 to the Cheyenne Animal Shelter for animal control. That means the DDA would receive $290,000, down from its current $390,000, while the shelter would receive $612,500, up from its current $505,000.

Council members will need to approve a resolution in the near-future to appropriate the additional $20,000 originally asked for by Laybourn to fully fund the foot and bike patrol program for FY 2020.

“I’m glad that we’re keeping the program going,” Laybourn said after the meeting.

Council members also approved an amendment, introduced by Councilman Jeff White, that increased the cap of city employees from 578.1 to 580.1.

Mayor Marian Orr said the council succeeded in passing “a very fiscally appropriate, good stewards of the taxpayer, budget.”

“There was certainly some compromise between our outside city entities (the DDA and the Cheyenne Animal Shelter) and their ask and what we were able to provide,” Orr said. “I believe that we’re going forward in a really great path.”

Council President Rocky Case said the budget process “always starts out as a meat grinder, but we get through it.”

“It’s a tough slug,” Case said. “The majority of the time, we come out with a good product, and I believe we did this year.”

Significant changes

The 2020 budget includes use of about $300,000 for one-time, nonrecurring expenditures. That amount includes $250,000 in deferred capital maintenance on city buildings.

The budget assumes an 8% increase in sales-and-use tax revenue, according to City Treasurer Robin Lockman. Projected actual collections for FY 2019 are about $19.5 million, an increase of 11% from the prior year. The city is projecting $20.6 million in sales-and-use tax revenue in FY 2020.

Council members also approved an amendment that includes a $650,000 subsidy for commercial air service at Cheyenne Regional Airport, which had been left off the original proposed budget.

Members also added $100,000 to the revenue side of the budget using money from the city’s reserves that will be paid back from fiscal year 2019 revisions.

Another significant change in the budget is for the Cheyenne Police Department and Cheyenne Frontier Days to pay for additional police officers at the late July event. As part of the budget, the city plans to cover half of the $100,000 cost from reserves, with Cheyenne Frontier Days funding the remaining half. In FY 2021, Cheyenne Frontier Days will cover the entire $100,000 cost.

Cheyenne Fire Rescue will increase its membership by three as a result of the recently negotiated agreement with the firefighters union.

Hiring the new firefighters and implementing a new “Kelly Days” schedule is designed to decrease overtime costs by $100,287, according to the proposed budget documents. A Kelly Day is a day off given to firefighters to bring the workweek down to the negotiated number of hours.

The city did not have to deal with an increase in employee health insurance premiums. City officials were initially informed by its health insurer to expect an increase of 9% to 10%. After negotiations, however, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming told city officials it would not increase health insurance premium rates for city employees in the next fiscal year.

The proposed budget also calls for creation of a Compliance Division within the Mayor’s Office that consolidates risk management, nuisance activities and the Building Division.

Some of the duties of the new division include overseeing city property, vehicle and liability coverage, and recommending and monitoring employee safety programs and practices, according to a description in the mayor’s budget document. Upon final approval by council, the transfers would become official when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

The budget also accounts for about 60 employees that were classified incorrectly for workers’ compensation as clerical, rather than hazardous, at an estimated annual cost of $163,000. Workers’ compensation rates increased by an estimated $46,000.

The budget also allows for a payment of $672,987 toward parking lot bonds, leaving a balance of about $6.3 million, and a payment of $715,166 toward solid waste capital leases, leaving a balance of about $2.2 million.

In other action

Council approved the Board of Public Utilities’ request for a 3% hike in water and a 5% increase in sewer rates.

Average residential customers using 6,000 gallons of water will see their monthly water bills go up by 95 cents.

The average customer using 4,000 gallons of water will see their sewer rates rise by $1.23 per month.

Businesses will see their water rate per 1,000 gallons increase from $4.93 to $5.08.

In addition to water and sewer rate increases, the approved plan calls for hikes in certain types of system development fees, which are one-time charges assessed to new water and wastewater customers.

The water system development fees for new ¾-inch and 1-inch residential taps will increase by 8% next year. These fees will range between $8,670 and $15,370 per new tap.

Sewer system development fees for new ¾-inch and 1-inch single family residential taps will also increase by 8% next year.

Under the new rate schedule, penalties for late payments will stay at $3. If water is turned off due to non-payment, the fee to reconnect will increase from $33.20 to $34.10.

Randy Hays, BOPU administration manager, told committee members that about $40 million in water projects are planned over the next three years.

BOPU plans to retire about $4.5 million in debt in fiscal year 2020, which starts July 1, bringing the utility’s debt service down to about $1.2 million.

“The sewer fund is not as robust as the water fund,” Hays told committee members in explaining the difference between the water and sewer rate requests. “The revenue stream isn’t nearly comparable to the water fund.”

About $20 million in sewer projects are planned in the next three years, he said. BOPU will use cash from the sewer fund to finance a $3.1 million sludge dewatering project instead of taking out a loan.

The increase in water rates will generate an additional $232,000 in the next fiscal year, Hays said. The proposed sewer rate would generate about $307,000.

The new water and sewer rates will go into effect Jan. 1.

Steve Knight is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3182 or sknight@wyomingnews.com.

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