December 5, 2022 |

Rawlins City Council has approved $10,000 in funding to help hire a legal specialist to develop a plan for cleaning up abandoned buildings.

Many Wyoming communities face a similar problem. Buildings constructed in the early part of the 20th century have little or no historic value, don’t live up today’s architectural standards and are too costly to restore. Some structures are worthy of saving. Many are not and have been abandoned by their owners, who have passed the problem onto local city governments and creditors.

During the October 18th Rawlins City Council meeting, Cheyenne Councilman Pete Laybourn explained the problem these vacant buildings present. Laybourn has faced the same problem in Cheyenne with no success.

Pictured above: The Budget Inn, located on Spruce Street in Rawlins. Photo by Cali O’Hare/Bigfoot 99.

In 2011, State Representative Donald Burkhart, brought House Bill number HB0197 to the Wyoming legislature. Called the Nuisance Abatement Bill, it allowed cities to collect fines from negligent property owners to pay for the cleanup of abandoned and dangerous buildings. It did not pass.

In 2021, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, or WAM, began to lobby the Wyoming legislature to allocate funding sources for cities to rebuild or demolish dangerous buildings.

Councilman Laybourn said it’s tough to convince state lawmakers to allow towns to use their own judgement in this matter.

The Cheyenne councilman said he attempted to introduce an ordinance in his hometown allowing the city to hold the title on dangerously neglected structures. As it stands, a bank usually owns the lien on a derelict property. If the city bought that building and paid to clean it up, after it was sold, there wouldn’t be any money left for the city to recoup its costs. All the money would go to the original lien holders. Councilman Laybourn said the bankers and realtors did not like that idea. He said he explained to them how his plan would be beneficial to everyone.

Remediating one neglected building can be costly. In a city like Rawlins with multiple abandoned buildings, the expense is huge. Councilman Laybourn said he doesn’t think the state lawmakers in Cheyenne understand the extent of the issue.

Knowing the scope of the problem, Councilman Laybourn came to the October 13th Rawlins council meeting to propose a partnership. He said he would like the city of Rawlins, Cheyenne and WAM to work together on a plan to handle the problem of nuisance buildings.

Councilman Laybourn asked the Rawlins city council to back his plan to hire a specialist to assess the counties options regarding abandoned buildings. If necessary, that person could then craft a bill to present to the Wyoming legislature. The Cheyenne councilman said they need to make sure they have as much information as possible before bringing anything before the state government.

Councilman Laybourn asked the city of Rawlins to cover $10,000 of the cost of hiring the specialist. The funding was approved by the city council.

Using the $10,000, Councilman Laybourn intends to hire someone to try to find a way to allow the city of Rawlins to recoup abatement costs on neglected buildings. As it stands now, the city can put a lien on a property, but, as the most recent lien holder, they go to bottom of stack. If the city cleans up the property, and it is sold, all liens are paid in the order they were issued, meaning the city would be last. Most of the abandoned properties are not worth enough to pay back what the city would spend to clean them up. Councilman Laybourn said more information is the only way to fix the situation.

It is unknown whether Councilman Laybourn has found someone to hire for the task. The wheels of government turn slowly, but Laybourn said he would like to have a bill created as soon as possible.

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