Oct. 24—CHEYENNE — Wyoming's capital city is losing money on parking, and the Cheyenne City Council is considering whether the solution is to privatize enforcement.
Downtown Cheyenne continues to grow. Bringing in more tourists and new businesses is expected to continue with the recent renewal of a mill levy tax on commercial properties within the Downtown Development Authority boundaries.
As downtown grows, the city has adapted, offering more parking. Officials have just had a difficult time enforcing the rules.
There is a balance of more than $250,000 in outstanding unpaid fines for parking violations for fiscal year 2023. The names of those who owe fines would be around 32 pages long, if printed out.
"Not only are we losing money in parking revenue, but we're paying money to have parking enforced, but then we can't collect it," council member Michelle Aldrich said at Monday night's City Council meeting.
Parking is currently enforced and controlled by the Cheyenne Police Department. With its resources spread thin, department officials says the priority isn't always on enforcing parking violations or collecting fines.
To address these concerns and alleviate the burden on CPD, the city is once again considering privatizing the system. Monday night, council members approved a resolution that will begin a study to analyze the options and best ways to transition to a parking system enforced by a private contractor.
"I'm at wit's end," Aldrich said. "If we can't do it, and can't do it well, then maybe we need to look at privatization. At this point, if we just did nothing, we would save money."
Her frustrations with the current system were shared by most other council members, but not all. Council member Pete Laybourn said he understands the situation is desperate, but he doesn't think privatization is the right step. He said it's too complex.
"My understanding of privatization of a parking system is a really serious step that I don't believe we're ready to analyze and understand," he said.
Though he believes the resolution is well-intentioned, he said it isn't practical. Laybourn doesn't see how a private company could be authorized to do a better job of collection than the city.
"I don't think resolutions born of frustration without the specificity and the history of this particular issue are the answer tonight," he said.
Regardless, the resolution passed. But this doesn't mean that a private company will immediately take over the program. It simply authorizes a study to see if it is feasible.
The study will be led by Cheyenne Police Capt. David Janes, who currently oversees the program. Janes said there are going to be a lot of options for the council to consider.
Currently, there's only one full-time ticket writer and one part-time employee surveying the streets of Cheyenne. There are a few options that a new program could offer.
Janes said many of the services he's investigated so far offer a la carte options. Some might just offer more ticketing manpower, while others offer management and others just have newer technology. Some might transition to a completely private program or to a hybrid with the police department.
"It's not going to be an easy decision," he said. "Because, like I said, there's no way to make everybody happy with parking."
While he doesn't have quotes on how much these services would cost, he said it will likely be more expensive than the current resources the police department spends on the program.
However, it would also free up more resources for the department. The community service officers that work with ticketing would have more time available to address other issues, like non-injury crashes, investigating abandoned motor vehicles or taking minor service calls.
Since the police department took over the program from the city clerk's office in 2017, Janes said it has been much improved. But the council will have a lot of options to choose from when Janes' report is complete within 90 days.
Council member Tom Segrave, who helped write the resolution, is optimistic.
"A majority of communities now operate that way, and keep the police department and all their staff busy with all the other things they have to do," he said.
The council also has considered integrating technology into the parking meters, including mobile applications. These apps allow users to pay from their phone and increase the time at the meter remotely at any time. This way, people wouldn't need to be at the meter to pay and wouldn't need to carry change.
With a 6-1 vote in favor, Laybourn was the only one opposed. Council members Richard Johnson and Mark Rinne were absent, and Mayor Patrick Collins did not vote.
"I think the study will give us a lot more information about where we need to go and how we get from here to there," council member Ken Esquibel said.
Noah Zahn is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's local government/business reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3128 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on X @NoahZahnn.