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Finance Committee recommends controversial lease agreement for potential animal shelter

During Monday's Finance Committee meeting, councilmembers Michelle Aldrich and Scott Roybal voted to recommend the lease agreement between the city and Meals on Wheels for property located on 2015 S. Greeley Highway, while Ken Esquibel voted against it.

Courtesy The Cheyenne Animal Shelter

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Cheyenne City Council’s hopes of acquiring property to build a controversial city-owned and -operated animal shelter is one step closer to becoming a reality.

During Monday’s Finance Committee meeting, Councilmembers Michelle Aldrich and Scott Roybal voted to recommend the lease agreement between the city and Meals on Wheels for property located at 2015 S. Greeley Highway, while Ken Esquibel voted against it.

Last week, councilmembers and Laramie County officials revealed their intention to cancel an $800,000 contract with the Cheyenne Animal Shelter.

CAS’s rising monetary requests, along with their lack of financial transparency, are the main reasons why the city is cutting ties with the shelter at the the end of June, Mayor Patrick Collins wrote in a March 10 newsletter.

Continuing to financially support the CAS would result in a $1.3 million expenditure, which the council believes is not an appropriate use of tax dollars.

The city’s solution to housing future animals without the CAS is to lease the South Greeley property and build a new shelter. If the lease agreement is approved by the governing body during its March 27 meeting, the arrangement would last for five years beginning June 1.

However, community and CAS members are advocating for the council to reconsider and are concerned that the city’s shelter will provide inadequate services.

Mayor Patrick Collins and the CAS board are currently renegotiating the contract to find a compromise, Finance Committee Chair Jeff White said during Monday’s meeting. However, if negotiations fail, White said the council needs to acquire the property as a “backup plan.”

At Monday’s meeting, concerned community members repeatedly asked the committee if the Meals on Wheels property is fit to house animals.

“How is this change going to create a positive impact?” Cheyenne resident Layna Officer asked committee members. “What are the measurements of success for this, and what is the proposed cost?”

White said neither the council nor the city staff had answers to those questions.

In response, resident Laura Bowen urged the council not to recommend the agreement.

“There is a lot of conversation, a lot of emotion, a lot of unknown,” Bowen said. “I don’t think that the Finance Committee would sign a lease without that unknown information.”

Like Bowen, Dr. Tiffany Healey, a veterinarian at the Woodbourne Animal Clinic, is not in favor of the lease and warned that maintaining the property will be a financial burden to the city.

“There’s much more to consider when re-doing the building,” Healey said. “Those things will not happen in that short amount of time.”

Roybal said the council can’t wait for the outcome of the negotiations to decide whether to approve the lease. If the agreement gets postponed and negotiations fail, then the council would have less than three months to open the shelter, hire the appropriate workers and set up the necessary services, he said.

Even though the council doesn’t have all the answers to the question, Aldrich said, moving forward with the lease is the best course of action.

“As a councilmember, I don’t want to be in the animal shelter business, that’s not why I ran for council,” she said during the meeting. “But if negotiation fails, we need a plan.”

Aldrich said the council’s funds are not unlimited and the city has other financial responsibilities besides providing for the CAS, including maintaining Cheyenne’s infrastructure, trash and water services.

“We need to make sure we’re being accountable with taxpayer dollars, we need to be transparent on our end,” she said.

Councilmember Ken Esquibel, who was the only no vote, expressed his hesitation toward approving the lease right away.

“As members of finance committee, we have to have the appropriation they asked for,” he said during the meeting.