Barron: Manipulating sixth penny projects

Barron: Manipulating sixth penny projects

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CHEYENNE – With another vote on sixth penny projects coming up in Laramie County, it will be interesting to learn how they they will be packaged this time around.

The last sixth penny ballot in 2017 had an interesting yet puzzling outcome.

What it showed primarily is that being bundled with amenities such as a recreation center in Cheyenne is a death knell to all projects in that package.

Cheyenne voters have demonstrated their opposition to expensive recreation projects before.

In the 2017 six cent special election, that attitude was reflected in the defeat of two of the nine propositions on the ballot.

Proposition 6 would have authorized a $6.7 million Cheyenne indoor turf sports facility and county radio equipment plus four rural or town projects.

The failed Proposition 7 offered a $7 million indoor gymnasium project, a rehabbed Cheyenne fire station and six rural or town projects. Apparently, however, voters didn’t consider the Greenway in Cheyenne an expensive amenity that wasn’t really needed.

For they approved Proposition 5 to expand the Greenway. Number 5 also included improvements to Cheyenne streets, a fire station at Archer and six other rural and town projects.

In all, the defeat of the two propositions saved $26 million in taxpayer money.

The rural communities generally want to be bundled with Cheyenne projects to get all those Cheyenne votes, which are needed to pass any ballot propositions.

Yet that plan doesn’t always work. After the election, there was considerable grumbling about the packaging.

Albin lost money for a new water meter system, a new vehicle storage facility and money to resurface the town hall parking lot.

Burns is out on tax money to remodel town-owned buildings, maintain street and drainage systems, complete a sewer line and pay for a new dump truck, with attachments.

The list for Pine Bluffs included refurbishing recreation facilities and upgrading the town cemetery.

Laramie County was out its share of the tax for radio equipment and an emergency storage facility.

The group that put together the 2017 ballot propositions — the joint sixth penny committee — included representatives from Burns, Albin, Pine Bluffs, Cheyenne and Laramie County. They were helped in packaging more than 40 proposed ballot issues by the Align consulting firm.

Align, according to published accounts from the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, put the projects into two categories as the committee requested. One option bundled all the public safety infrastructure projects – such as two new fire stations for Laramie County and a fire station replacement in Cheyenne – and placed them into their own package.

The second option spreads those projects across the rest of the packages.

Most of the committee members favored the second option.

Their thinking was that if the two Cheyenne recreation projects — the gymnasium and the indoor sports facility — were bundled into their own package without any other projects, they would fail.

They were right about that.

Yet bundling the two recreation projects with other proposals resulted in bringing down the whole lot, including the fire house renovations, which were a public safety issue, and 10 rural town projects.

Some committee members said they feared that voters would reject a package that included only public safety projects.

During the pre-2017 election discussions, Amber Ash, a member of the Laramie County commissioners, was the only member of the sixth penny committee to object to the mixed method of packaging.

“Grouping them in an effort to try to get projects passed we don’t think are strong enough to stand on their own is wrong,” Ash said at the time.

The projects, she added, should be categorized according to types of services and either they pass or not. The editorial board of the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle recently offered a solution in line with Ash’s thinking — group projects by type and/or community rather than intermingling them.

“Or at the very least, make sure any large-scale project over a certain dollar amount stands alone,” the editorial said.

That’s as good as solution as any I’ve heard so far. Depending on the dollar threshold, it may mean no recreation facilities for Cheyenne until these projects have more unified support.

Joan Barron is a former longtime capitol bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or jmbarron@bresnan.net.

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