Crime analyst, Municipal Building upgrades top American Rescue Plan requests

·5 min read

Oct. 30—CHEYENNE — City department heads on Friday began presenting items and projects they'd like to have funded by American Rescue Plan money.

Cheyenne has been promised about $12.2 million in federal money, meant to help municipalities recover some of the revenue they've lost during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The city received almost $6.1 million in May, with the second half slated to come in May 2022.

The funds can cover expenses after March 3, 2021, and must be spent or obligated by Dec. 31, 2024. If the money is obligated for the future, it must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

Some of the money has already been allocated to things like a one-time payment to city staff, premium pay for essential workers and restoring cut positions, or suggested for projects like alleviating homelessness.

Still, about $7.45 million remains, and is divided into two categories. Just over $3.2 million belongs to a restricted "economic recovery" category, which the U.S. Department of the Treasury says must be used to respond to the public health emergency caused by COVID-19, as well as its negative economic impacts, including help for households, small businesses and nonprofits, or industries like tourism or hospitality that were gravely impacted by the pandemic.

It can also help pay for government services affected by revenue loss caused by COVID, provide additional premium pay for essential workers, or pay for water, sewer and broadband infrastructure projects.

About $4.25 million exists in a second pot of money, the relatively unrestricted "revenue recovery" budget. This fund has a lot more discretion and can be used for things like infrastructure projects, education and public safety.

On Friday, potential projects were presented by the Public Works Department, the Compliance Division, Cheyenne Fire Rescue and the Cheyenne Police Department. The departments each ranked several items or projects by priority and provided information about them.

Hiring a crime analyst is the top priority for the Cheyenne Police Department, Chief Mark Francisco said. The police department has requested funding for this position during at least the past few budget cycles. The cost for four years' salary and benefits is expected to be $332,808.

"We have access here to a vast amount of data, and we've found that putting it into a useful format is really more than a full-time job," Francisco said.

CPD is also asking for funding related to repair or replacement of elements of its firearms training center on Happy Jack Road, including outdated software and mechanical systems that Francisco said frequently malfunction.

Cheyenne Fire Rescue ranked several items as first priorities, including replacing personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and coveralls, three years of scheduling software, rehiring multiple staff positions, and paying for COVID-related overtime and leave.

Chief John Kopper said COVID-19 had affected the fire department beyond increased costs for PPE, overtime and leave for illness and exposure, and reduced staffing.

"It has also taken a mental toll on personnel because of the longevity and unknown nature of this pandemic. We're seeing more behavioral health issues because of this to include depression, anxiety and insomnia," Kopper said. "We're dealing with this with our personnel, but moreover, we are encountering quite a bit of this with our customers when we respond to incidents."

For Public Works, the top priority is cleaning ducts, valves and other equipment in the Cheyenne Municipal Building. The second priority is increasing the humidity of the building, which, like the HVAC cleaning, was a recommendation from a 2019 OSHA study done on the Municipal Building and would improve the health of those working there, Public Works Director Vicki Nemecek said. These projects would cost $42,143 and $120,000, respectively.

The Compliance Division has prioritized the implementation of permitting and licensing software, which would help improve public access to permits and easier scheduling of inspections, among other functions. The software would also be used by the city's Planning and Development Department, the City Engineer's Office, the City Clerk's Office and Cheyenne Fire Rescue, Assistant Chief Building Official Wes White said. This item has an expected cost of $454,375 over five years, and could potentially save the city money, compared to its current software.

A second priority, 2-in-1 laptop computers totaling $6,000, would help staff work more efficiently from the field, White said.

There will be two more work sessions in the coming weeks in which department heads will present priority projects to council members. The next work session is planned for noon Nov. 5, when the City Engineer's Office, Planning and Development Department and Board of Public Utilities will present. The final session is planned for noon Nov. 10, when representatives from the Greater Cheyenne Greenway and the Community Recreation and Events Department will make presentations, alongside some additional technology requests.

While the public may attend remotely, no public comment is taken during work sessions.

Grants Manager Renee Smith said she's working on a scoring sheet for council members to rank their priorities for ARP funding. After that, she said, Mayor Patrick Collins plans to meet with and discuss these priorities with council members during a future work session. The City Council will make the final decision on how the money is spent.

Hannah Black is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at hblack@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahcblack.

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