5/16/2013 4:17:00 PM Bond referendum on roads is necessary
by DENISE MARTIN
By informal headcount approximately 80 citizens were in attendance at the street projects bonding hearing May 7 at Wyoming City Hall. The informational hearing is required for the council to sell reconstruction bonds to repair and maintain Wyoming city streets. Bonding spreads costs over the entire city and would eliminate having to rely on special assessments for maintenance and repairs. Usually hearings are when people in opposition to something turnout, but in Wyoming’s case 90 percent of those speaking were in favor of bonding.
Many citizens left the council room disappointed, though, when the bonding failed to be approved. But there is a Plan B in motion, which involves a special vote of the people. The topic of the hearing-- “Plan A” is founded on a new city property tax levy of $500,000, created to act as debt service on street reconstruction bonds, that would provide a multi million dollar jump start on a 10-year infrastructure project list. A portion of the annual $500,000 goes to pay debt for the worst streets that are being done first. Increments of the rest of the half-million can be saved-up for future smaller projects. Wyoming City Council adopted the dedicated half-million-dollar levy on a 4-1 vote at the end of 2012.
Council member Linda Nanko-Yeager was the no vote late last year. She continued to oppose the street plan last week. When the time came for a vote on Roger Elmore’s motion allowing the city to sell street reconstruction bonds-- to nobody’s surprise it failed 4-1. The bonds require a unanimous vote of council. The council then voted 5-0 to put the bonds out for a vote of the people. Wyoming staff will work furiously to get a referendum question written as soon as possible. It was announced there could be a special ballot as soon as July. People attending the public hearing last week clamored for a vote right then-and-there. In the course of the lengthy discussion, the mayor offered Council member Nanko-Yeager a back door out of this controversy, but she declined. Mayor Peterson argued that council should move forward and let citizens pull together a reverse referendum if there indeed is opposition to the no-assessment plan.
If enough residents petition and vote to block bonding, it would halt. “You can vote yes,” the mayor told the councilwoman. If residents have such strong distaste for the financing idea, let them demonstrate it. Council member Nanko-Yeager explained that she seeks to reduce government spending and not take out debt. (The city 2012 audit reported Wyoming bonded debt per capita has decreased since 2009, when it was $849, to $594 in 2012.) Nanko-Yeager prefers a shared funding approach. Projects should have at least some contribution by the adjoining, benefitting property owners.
A couple citizens did address this very concern when they pointed out at the hearing they live on a county road. They will never get a city street project. They don’t get any benefit from these proposed infrastructure projects because they have private sewer and water. Council member Joe Zerwas said he’s been on the council for nine years and he’s utterly frustrated by this issue. Joe Zerwas credited council and the mayor for taking steps to get to this point after decades of gridlock.
He said he “...hopes and prays Linda will change her mind.” Some citizens did commend Nanko-Yeager for her stance on other financial hot potatoes; but on this topic they mostly called on her to agree to bonding. Interest rates are at historic lows, it was noted repeatedly. Under the councilwoman’s preferred method, the levy only generates enough to do one piece of roadway (annually at $500,000.) The city is looking at years of never-ending work zones under that scenario. Council member Steve Zerwas said the city is wasting money patching streets and wrecking vehicles. By pushing these projects out there will be no savings. “Assessments are a slap in the face” to taxpayers, he also declared.
Why set up the tax revenues for reconstruction AND assess people? Watch the Press for information about the upcoming referendum, the amount the council seek to have voters approve and any meeting dates. In other business: Administrative Asst. Nicole Miller’s resignation was accepted with regret. She has been offered a job in a field she’s very interested in, in the private sector. The council directed staff to shift Robb Linwood from the police department to tackle Miller’s tasks and “rework” the current law enforcement records job description.
Wyoming will be looking to fill the police clerk/records post when details are finalized. Parks Committee members agreed to waive the girls youth ball team fees for practice hours. The league will still pay field use fees during “tournaments.” Council member Elmore, who serves as parks liaison, said the waiver is for this summer only. (See fee story in Press April 25.) The 2006 police Durango was repainted and equipped for use by firefighters, and Council member Joe Zerwas questioned the $935 bill. Zerwas said the idea of the fleet rotation was to get a better re-sale price when the city replaces police vehicles. Lately, he remarked, it seems vehicles are just “shifted around the city” and not being sold.
City Administrator Craig Mattson said the decision was made by the public safety department supervisor and Chief of Police Paul Hoppe. Hoppe would be scheduled to take questions at a future meeting if council desires.