After creating more than 20 goals in 2017, the Laramie City Council decided to take a minimalist approach this year and set three high-level objectives for the city.
During the council’s retreat Saturday, Leader’s Edge Consulting Management Consultant Gregg Piburn discussed the idea of less is more.
“With these high-level objectives, what we’re saying is these are the things that need special emphasis,” Piburn said. “I’m going to challenge you to walk out of here with three or four objectives.
“I’ve even had groups walk out of here with one, so it is possible.”
Using Piburn’s coaching, the council refined its one-year objectives to three categories and set measurable milestones for each.
As one of the state’s poorest counties regarding sales and use tax collections, Albany County and Laramie often rely on state-shared funds to provide a number of services and help with general operations. But the state’s recent economic downturn resulted in less state-shared funds making their way into the city’s coffers. A funding methodology, commonly reffered to as the “Madden Formula,” further reduced the amount of state funds shared with Laramie by redirecting state revenue to other Wyoming municipalities.
As a result, Laramie’s previously lean budget could dip to critically low levels following the 2018 Legislative Budget Session.
Because of the recent instability in state-shared funding, Councilor Dave Paulekas said it might be time to wean the city off the state’s teat.
“I don’t think we’re in a stabilized financial environment right now for a number of reasons,” Paulekas said. “The model we’re using right now is not sustainable for the future.”
While moving away from using state-shared funding altogether could take years, the council decided they would like to spend 2018 identifying which governmental services and projects are supported by state-shared funding and reduce the percent of state-shared funds used to carry those services.
With the fifth, sixth and seventh penny sales tax options slated to appear on the ballot this year, the council also said a measurable milestone for improving the city’s financial health would be finalizing a renewal strategy for the general purpose tax with the Albany County Commissioners and Rock River Town Council within the next few months.
Economic development and retail enhancement
The city recently contracted The Retail Coach to conduct a retail analysis and discovered the city could be leaking about $400,000 in potential retail sales to nearby communities.
Although organizations like the Laramie Main Street Alliance and Laramie Chamber Business Alliance work to promote economic development within the community, councilors said the city should continue to be active partners in the process.
While Mayor Andi Summerville said she had ambitious goals for Laramie, such as becoming the state’s leader in education, entrepreneurship and technology, the city would need to set some measures of success before claiming the titles.
“By the end of the year, we would like have one or two new retailers in Laramie that were identified in the (retail) gap area,” Summerville said. “We would also like to increase available retail locations by 10 percent within the city.”
Additionally, she said the city could expand venture capital access in Laramie and conduct an assessment of Laramie’s broadband gaps, a measurable milestone in line with Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW initiative, which also identified broadband service as an area for improvement throughout the state.
Streets and storm water drainage
Less money from the state has pinched several areas of the city’s pocketbook, but one area the affect is becoming particularly noticeable is street maintenance, Laramie Public Works Director Earl Smith said.
During the retreat, Smith said the city currently spends about $850,000 a year to maintain its streets, but data from the Pavement Condition Index illustrated the efforts weren’t enough, and the average condition of Laramie’s streets is worsening.
To maintain the streets current condition, the budget would need to increase to about $2.5 million a year, and to improve Laramie’s average Pavement Condition Index would require about $4.5 million a year.
In 2009, Laramie’s average Pavement Condition Index, which rates pavement on a scale of 0-100, was about 70, but nowadays, Smith said it is sitting closer to 65 and falling. Ratings between 50 and 65 are considered critical points, because the pace of deterioration starts increasing exponentially at that time in the pavement’s lifespan, according to city documents.
Smith also said the city has several backlogged storm drainage projects identified in Laramie’s storm drainage master plans. For West Laramie alone, Smith said there were about 18 storm drainage projects pending, which would cost millions of dollars.
“We need to focus on streets and storm water,” Councilor Joe Shumway said. “And we need to come up with a way (to fund the projects) that is sustainable.”
Summerville said the public consensus was the city needed to focus more on streets overall.
“I’m not saying we need to have a goal to come up with $4.5 million a year,” she said. “But I think we need to make (streets) a priority.”
The council agreed a measurable milestone for the objective was to achieve a funding level to increase overall Pavement Condition Index an average 1.5 percent per year with the long-term goal of raising the average index to about 75 percent.
Councilor Bryan Shuster said another milestone would be to achieve one item per year on the storm water drainage project list.
“By July, we should approve a community and city funding policy for unpaved and ungraded areas,” Summerville said. “This will bring forward the conversation so the council can talk about who should pay for what, so the city manager has clarity going on from there.”