By Bradley Harrington
“In budget year 2015, city taxpayers paid at least $1.6 million more for their trash services than it cost the city to supply … [Because] that’s the amount Sanitation handed over to the city’s general fund.” — Bradley Harrington, “Trash Rate Hike Really Stinks,” WTE, May 22, 2015 —
In a free society, built upon principles of private property, services are voluntary — and, in both reason and morality, it’s the people who use such services who should be paying for them.
Mixed-economy government ownership of “infrastructure,” however — streets, sewage, water, trash disposal, fire services, etc. — cloud the issues of ownership, usage and control in fashions not present in a true free-market economy.
Even so, market forces should still be encouraged to operate to any extent possible — and the best way to do that, locally, is to have Cheyenne charge “impact fees” for new development in order to fund the infrastructural requirements that accompany it.
While such fees have their drawbacks — too high a fee-structure can kill development demand — those costs, if properly determined and implemented, provide the best vehicle possible, minus a full free-market system, to achieve those goals. Absent such fees, municipalities have to turn to taxation, exaction or bonding instead — and all three suffer from flaws of their own.
While Cheyenne’s budgets include some impact fees (“system development fees” for water and sewer and “community facility fees” for parks), however, they aren’t even close to what’s needed to accomplish the mission.
In FY 2016, those fees were only $103,448; in FY 2017, $151,175; and in FY 2018, $151,200. None of which holds a candle compared to the millions of dollars Cheyenne spends on infrastructure every year.
With these thoughts in mind, Cheyenne’s Governing Body agreed unanimously back on March 24, 2014 to spend $76,720 for a study by TischlerBise on the viability of such fees.
That study, “Development Impact Fees,” arrived on March 4, 2015 — and made it clear that, when compared to other Front Range municipalities, Cheyenne’s proposed impact fees fell far short of what other locations impose.
For “Single Residential Units,” Greeley charged $23,876; Longmont, $23,206; Windsor, $22,319; Loveland, $22,178; and Ft. Collins, $18,195. Cheyenne bottomed out at $13,177.
On the “Multi-Family Dwelling” side: Loveland, $14,147; Greeley, $13,478; Ft. Collins, $13,304; Windsor, $9,522; and Longmont, $6,707. Cheyenne cratered again at $6,274. Similar discrepancies accompanied the industrial, office and commercial arenas as well.
Since Cheyenne, the study tells us, adds an average of 350 housing units per year, striking a 50/50 balance between the two would mean: $2.3 million (175 times $13,177) plus $1.09 million (175 times $6,274) or $3.39 million — not counting businesses. Costs which, while paid up front by developers, are passed along to property purchasers. And who better to pay those costs than the property owners themselves?
Yet, despite such logic, most of Cheyenne’s business interests remain opposed to impact fees.
The day Cheyenne’s Finance Committee met to discuss the TischlerBise study, for instance, Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce President Dale Steenbergen said, “we are not convinced the current fees (assessed by the city for new business and development projects) are not already a little stifling.” (“Impact fees worry business community,” WTE, March 16, 2015.)
Randy Bruns, Cheyenne LEADS president, chimed in as well: “The Cheyenne area is in competition for jobs and companies with other communities all over the West,” he said. “Businesses are going to go where it is most efficient for them to operate.”
Yet, by that reasoning, how is it that most of the Front Range cities mentioned — all of whom charge far more in impact fees than what Cheyenne has proposed — have greater economic growth than we do?
And if it isn’t the property owners who should be paying for their infrastructure — then who is it, exactly?
Come the full governing body vote on March 23, 2015, however, sponsor Jim Brown withdrew his resolution from the agenda. Why? “’The votes (needed to approve the resolution) weren’t there, and that was obvious,’ Councilman Mark Rinne said. ‘We were inundated with emails (from impact fee opponents) this weekend.’” (“Impact fees off Cheyenne’s table,” WTE, March 24, 2015.)
So, millions of recurring city dollars are wiped off the books — while, now, councilors contemplate milking the Sanitation “cash cow” yet again (“The Cheyenne City Council Finance Committee brought proposed sanitation rate hikes back from the dead Monday,” “Cheyenne City Council Finance Committee revives trash fee hikes,” WTE, June 20.)
So: It seems our councilors are willing to chuck at least $3.39 million yearly out the window, instead of climbing out of the pockets of the business interests who own them — while YOU, Dear Reader, will be trashed for the umpteenth time to make up the difference.
How’s that for “city governance”? It should be clear by now who really runs this town — and it’s NOT the Governing Body.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on June 25, 2017. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.