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(OPINION) The Mayor’s Minute from Mayor Patrick Collins (3/10/23)

Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins (City of Cheyenne)

NOTE: The following is a column written weekly by Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — It was a sad day for me as I sent a letter to the Cheyenne Animal Shelter, or CAS, informing them that the city and county recommended not renewing our contract with their organization. That partnership changed in 2021 when the CAS informed the city that they were discontinuing animal control services. Therefore, the city and county worked together to take on this vital service. Since then, we have contracted animal sheltering services.

I want to take a few minutes to share the thought process and information that went into this hard decision. In 2021, Dr. Samantha Vernon was the board chairperson of the CAS, and she wrote an article outlining a fundamental change from a model of “population control” to a model of “community social services.” She was critical of our efforts to control the cost of animal control and sheltering services.

Vernon shared that a model of community social services included things like providing veterinary services for low-income people, pet food, euthanasia and crematory services for the same group, boarding services for folks in the hospital, a community cat program, training of emotional support animals and animal behavioral services, among other things. The question is, should public tax dollars be spent to support these very worthy services? We have shared with the CAS that these services are what folks donate money to, such as the Fur Ball, Day of Giving and other charitable endeavors, and are not appropriate expenditures of tax dollars.

To pay for these social service programs, the CAS believes the city and county are responsible for paying 70% of their total general fund budgeted for $2.5 million. For the city and county, that cost would amount to $1.75 million. For the past two years that I have been mayor, the city and county have questioned what our financial responsibility should be. That is where the big rub comes into the picture. If you can’t even agree on what our responsibilities are, how do you agree on the funding?

During last year’s negotiations, the current board president, Richard Mincer, shared, “This is the price, and if you don’t like it, then do it yourself.” Unfortunately, we have reached that point. In 2020, the city paid the CAS their ask of $320,000 a year. In 2022 that number went up to $350,000. We understood the need for a cost-of-living increase. However, in 2022, the increase went up to 51%, or $528,000. The letter we were sent on Feb. 10 raised that number an additional 53% to $812,500 from the city. The letter also informed us that the number would have to go up an additional 40% in the subsequent contract. Since the adoption of the community service model, the total city/county contract has grown from $492,000 to $1.75 million in just a few years.

I recognize this will be disappointing for many of you, as it has been for all of us.

So, what is our plan? We have found a building that would be great for a municipal shelter operation. We have created a business plan to hire and train staff to take care of the animals our control officers pick up. We will do our very best to get the lost animals back to their homes, and for those without homes, work with regional rescues and humane societies to help find them loving homes. I ask you to look at the amazing way the city took over animal control and give us some time to do the same with animal sheltering.

We hope the Cheyenne Animal Shelter will partner with the city/county going forward to help find loving homes for the animals, as we will need support going forward.

In lighter fare, the Annual Disability Awareness Walk was held last Saturday at Frontier Mall. Judy and I stopped by to read a proclamation on behalf of the city and take part in the walk. Magic City Enterprises has advocated for people with intellectual and physical disabilities for over 50 years. We had a great crowd and a lot of fun.

Meals on Wheels is a great partner in our community that brings meals to those who may not be able to eat on a regular basis. They stopped by the office so I could read a proclamation and spend time getting updates on their program. One new program they’ve taken on is the AniMeals program, which delivers pet food, kitty litter and other pet supplies to their clients who need assistance taking care of their furry family members. I was impressed when I stopped by this past summer to see their operation, and today they are now delivering over 400 meals a day. It takes 180 volunteers and lots of love to make that happen.

Housing is the topic of the moment in our city, state and region. Affordability and availability have been a challenge for a while now. If we are to diversify our economy and grow, we need to figure this problem out. This week I met again with the Wyoming Business Council and local developers to try and figure out the secret to meeting the challenge. Each meeting helps me understand the issues, but we are still a long way from having it solved.

The High Plains Arboretum has been part of our landscape for 100 years now. The area just west of the Air Force Base was the site of experiments to see what trees and shrubs could survive our harsh, dry climate. Today, many of the trees planted decades ago are still there. You can see the success of their work in our urban forests across the area. There are a few historic houses on the site that have been abandoned for a few years. I had a gentleman stop by with a plan to get the homes restored and get folks living there again. It would be a great way to preserve these homes and other historic buildings in the area and make a great project for our team to work on.

LEADS brought another potential business looking to settle in Cheyenne by the city building for a preliminary visit this week. This company manufactures and tests equipment in the technology and space business. We are early in the discussions, but I am very excited to see the work being done to diversify our local economy. We are creating vibrant tech and manufacturing in our community, and I can’t wait to see what our business and industrial industries will look like in a decade.

I spent most of my allotted space this week discussing the animal shelter. We had a very busy week, and I don’t have time to share all that happened, but I will try to share more in the next couple of weeks. I love that I can feel spring in the air. After this long winter, it is time for some sunshine and warm weather.

If you have a question or comment for me, please send an email to media@cheyennecity.org. I’ll continue to answer your questions or concerns in the following Mayor’s Minute column.


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