SHERIDAN — Sheridan City Council held a strategic planning session Thursday, an extended bi-annual meeting designed to give council the opportunity to discuss their big-picture goals for the city.

Wyoming Association of Municipalities Executive Director David Fraser, who moderated the planning session, asked councilors what they hoped to get out of the planning session, and council members agreed that the session would be an opportunity to have in-depth discussions about topics they cannot adequately address during regular council meetings and study sessions.

Councilors said discussions often feel constrained during meetings and study sessions because of the need to work through busy agendas.

Ultimately, council was not able to discuss all topics it wanted to cover during the four-hour planning session, which some councilors said reinforced the idea that council needed to have more time for detailed discussions.

Councilors agreed they would begin scheduling an additional study session each month to give themselves more time to dig into issues going forward.

Downtown Development Association

In June, council began discussing whether the Downtown Development Association — an inactive arm of the Downtown Sheridan Association — fit into the city’s future plans.

Sheridan created the DDA in 2015 in response to a petition from downtown property owners. The association was intended to give the DSA — which operates as a nonprofit organization — access to new revenue streams, allowing it to pursue larger downtown enhancement projects.

High turnover among city staff halted plans to create those additional funding sources and without funding, the DDA’s plans were put on indefinite hold and the board became essentially defunct.

Councilors recognized that they could not effectively reactivate the board without a consistent funding stream, but debated whether the DDA warranted that funding.

The city would have two options for creating funding streams for the DDA.

The city could propose assessing mill levies — which are additional property taxes — on business and commercial properties downtown. Those levies would have to be approved in a majority vote by non-residential property property owners in the downtown district and re-approved by those voters every four years.

Sheridan could also use tax incremental financing to fund the DDA, which would give the board sales and use tax revenues collected above a certain amount. That is, the city would choose a previous fiscal year and calculate how much sales and use tax revenue it collected from businesses within the DDA’s boundaries. That amount would serve as a benchmark and any sales and use tax revenue beyond that benchmark would go toward funding the DDA.

Mayor Roger Miller pointed out that Sheridan has several local economic development associations, and wondered whether the DDA’s mission overlapped with the work those organizations are already doing.

DSA Executive Director Zoila Perry told council she believed an active DDA would make for a more robust DSA. As a private nonprofit, she said, the DSA does not qualify for dedicated tax revenues and is limited in its ability to apply for loans and grants.

For instance, Perry said, if the DSA wants to apply for a grant, it needs to be sponsored by a “governing body.” As it stands now, the DSA would have to come to the city for assistance applying for the grant. With a functioning DDA, the DSA could submit the application on their own.

A revived DDA would also focus specifically on developments to the city’s downtown district, while other local economic development organizations — like SEEDA or the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce — have much broader focuses, Perry said.

Some members of council still were not convinced the city needed a DDA, however.

Council President Clint Beaver called the DDA “a solution in search of a problem,” explaining that his research indicated DDAs are typically formed in larger cities to address urban blight, which has never been a concern in Sheridan.

Councilor Aaron Linden added that he was not convinced the DDA warranted the creation of new taxes.

Councilor Richard Bridger was also skeptical that a revived DDA would have a clear focus.

“I think if it’s ever going to work, it has to have a specific goal that is important to the community as a whole,” Bridger said. “…It doesn’t seem like there’s ideas for any specific project right now.”

Bridger added that he would be in favor of mothballing the DDA — allowing it to remain inactive but in place — rather than disbanding it in case the city could find a use for it down the road. If the city did away with the board and later realized a need it could address, the city would have to go through a lengthy process to re-create it, he explained.

City attorney Brendon Kerns said he would give a presentation on the DDA at a September council meeting and give council the opportunity to take formal action on the future of the DDA.

During the session, council also discussed issues related to its efforts to facilitate more attainable housing in the community and its work on Sheridan’s parks and recreation system during the planning session. The Press will have more detailed coverage of those discussions in the coming week.