There’s no shortage of street projects in Cody. What is lacking is money for maintenance and construction, say city officials.
Money available to Cody for capital projects shrank significantly when state legislators cut consensus block grant funding for local governments. The last biennium the Wyoming Legislature provided consensus grants for cities and counties was in the 2015-2016 biennial budgets.
In that period, the City of Cody was allotted $1.15 million, according to Leslie Brumage, finance director.
The next highest state revenue stream is the one-time direct distribution, which takes legislative approval during each biennium budget. For Cody that amounted to $642,489 in fiscal year 2018-2019.
This money was formerly used for Cody’s capital projects.
“Now it’s so tight, we’ve moved (direct distribution) to operations,” said Barry Cook, city administrator.
To help fill the void, in 2016 Park County voters approved a 1-cent specific purpose sales and use tax, which went into effect April 2017. It reached the county-wide $13.67 million cap within two years.
Cody designated its $5 million portion to Phase 2 sewer lagoon upgrade and expansion ($3 million), street chip sealing ($1 million) and Americans With Disabilities ramps ($1 million).
Now talks between Park County commissioners and Cody, Powell and Meeteetse municipal officials have resumed as they consider whether to place another tax initiative before voters on the 2020 general election ballot.
Northwest College, Powell, has asked the Park County Commission to support a $10 million capital facilities sales tax to build a $20 million student center, adding a new twist to local requests this go-round.
As many unknowns are sorted out, the city council is gathering information to arm itself with a plan of options.
Matching Cody’s previous cut, public works director Phillip Bowman has presented $5 million in streets projects for the council’s consideration. He added an optional $1 million project to the list, however, in case more money were made available.
Specific purpose tax money may only go toward projects originally identified by each entity on the ballot.
In September, Bowman started with 12 projects with an estimated $14 million overall cost. He returned to the council in December having whittled the wishlist down to five projects based on a $5 million budget.
“We basically have $3 million dedicated to streets projects since we don’t have a wastewater project,” Bowman said.
Cody has no other source of money for major maintenance or capital improvement projects such as upgrades to public buildings and streets.
For projects to proceed, city officials say some type of additional revenue is needed. If it’s in the form of an optional sales tax, a fifth percent on top of the statewide 4% sales tax would be implemented in April 2021.
“There’s certainly no funding source for all of the projects,” Bowman said. “We’re definitely in a tight budget situation and we simply are not able to generate funding for capital projects.”
Cook said they are concentrating on infrastructure projects as those seem to be the most popular with citizens.
“It’s kind of like kicking tires,” he said. “They know it’s there and can see it.”
Park County Commission chairman Jake Fulkerson said whether taxpayers are asked to approve another special sales tax depends on the 2020 Legislative session, and so county commissioners will not make a decision before early March.
One state-level appropriations proposal is to give counties the ability to make their fifth penny permanent by putting it to their voters. Park County is only one of two Wyoming counties without a fifth-penny sales tax.
“At this point, everything’s on the table,” Fulkerson said. “If (legislators) go one way, we don’t need it, and if they go another way, we will,” he said.
Public works director releases list of possible projects to fund with tax
Phillip Bowman, City of Cody public works director, has proposed $5 million in street projects should Park County implement another 1% optional sales and use tax.
Without design and engineering, project amounts are rough estimates:
• ADA and sidewalk improvements, $750,000.
Using nearly $1 million in specific purpose taxes collected April 2017-2019, public works rebuilt 159 of 290 noncompliant pedestrian street crossings. There are still 131 more street ramps requiring reconfiguration.
The proposed project would continue with the ADA Pedestrian Ramp Improvements Project and sidewalk infill and repair, focusing on Cody’s business district and downtown areas, high pedestrian areas such as schools, parks and residential neighborhoods.
• Three years of street chip sealing, $750,000.
The proposal includes chip seal, crack seal and thin asphalt patching for about three years, and possibly four, if other project savings are attained.
Chip seal is considered the most cost-efficient way to maintain streets. The city follows a rotation schedule that results in all streets receiving the maintenance every eight years.
• Robert Street pedestrian-bike pathway, $340,000.
Cody Middle School is the district’s central bus drop-off and pick-up location for all students, and Freedom Street is a two-block stretch of paved street with sidewalk running from CMS to Big Horn Avenue.
To continue north, a pedestrian or driver must cross the four-lane Big Horn and jog slightly east to Robert Street. The project would create an 8-10-foot-wide pathway for about a half mile from the Robert-Big Horn intersection to E Avenue where Robert dead-ends. The street connects to several residential areas, including the 218-lot Trailhead Subdivision.
Bowman said the pathway would likely go along the west side of Robert because of fewer driveways to contend with, and there would be some type of physical separation between road and path.
• Asphalt overlay on 19th from Sheridan to Big Horn, and on Cougar from Blackburn to Freedom, $320,000.
• Develop Cougar Avenue east from Freedom to 33rd, $190,000.
The east-west paved Cougar, which becomes a dirt trail where Freedom intersects with CMS, is blocked to traffic.
Development would extend the street for a half mile from the middle school east to about the Date Street and Cottonwood intersection.
The $190,000 estimate is based on a 10% city match for a $1.9 million project partially paid for Urban Systems money from the Wyoming Department of Transportation.
WYDOT plans show construction in fiscal year 2024 (October 2023-September 2024) or later.
• Central Avenue full reconstruction, $2.65 million.
Redo pavement, curb and gutter to address drainage problems. Sidewalk would extend generally 23rd-29th streets.
Additional $1 million
A project Bowman said is “rising into possible contention” would make infrastructure improvements to the corner where East Sheridan intersects with Beacon Hill Road.
“There could be some things happening there rather quickly,” he said.
This is due to Cody School District’s bus barn project and commercial and residential development expected on adjoining land recently sold by the school district.
Bowman said pavement, curb and gutter, sidewalk and drainage improvements will be needed to make the street fully functional based on anticipated development.
With a $1 million estimated price tag, the project is under consideration only if the city’s portion of a 1-cent sales tax would increase to $6 million.
Wyoming sales and use-excise taxes
General purpose tax: In increments of one-half percent. Used for general funding for county governments. May be renewed y resolution of majority of governing bodies after initially approved by voters.
Specific purpose tax: Projects approved when the tax is approved and tax ends when amount of money approved has been collected.
General purpose and specific purpose taxes cannot add up to more than 3%
Other voter approved taxes are a 3% general purpose tax for resort districts, up to 1% for economic development and 4% lodging tax.