High expectations will greet Casper’s new city manager when he starts the job next week. City Council members have placed great hopes on Carter Napier to help cut spending and amend Casper’s new budget, which was approved at Tuesday’s meeting and will take effect July 1.
At least five of the panel’s nine members expressed significant reservations about the budget proposed by Interim City Manager Liz Becher, but after several budget meetings, they agreed to approve it with the understanding that Napier will review it and presumably find areas to cut.
Napier is currently the city administrator of Gillette and previously worked for Casper as an assistant to then-city manager Tom Forslund. His first day as Casper city manager is Monday.
“We’re bringing in a guy who understands reality,” said Councilman Dallas Laird. “He will think about this budget deeply.”
Laird was the lone vote against the $129 million budget, which uses about $4 million in reserves and which Assistant City Manager Tracey Belser said represented a $50 million cut from last year’s budget. Most of that spending reduction came in capital costs.
Councilman Shawn Johnson said he was also uncomfortable with some aspects of the budget but put faith in Napier to examine it.
“A lot of us have some concerns about the budget still, but the point is to pass this, let the new city manager come in, take a look at it and then fix it later,” Johnson said. “The budget can always be amended.”
Supported by Council members Chris Walsh and Jesse Morgan, Laird successfully requested that Becher and city staff offer potential cuts that would eliminate the need to spend any reserves.
Staff presented about $18 million in possible cuts, with the largest savings coming through major layoffs of municipal workers and the shuttering of facilities, but Council ultimately declined to act on the vast majority of them.
Longtime Councilman Charlie Powell cautioned that despite Napier’s qualifications, it was unlikely he would find ways to save significant amounts of money that have not already been proposed.
“Carter Napier can’t print money,” Powell said. “I think we should be careful about our expectations with the new city manager and not expect him to ride in on a white horse and solve a problem we’ve been wrestling with for some time.”
Powell said the central question was whether Casper should subsidize recreation for residents. He noted the cuts that would save the most money were largely quality-of-life programs like Hogadon Ski Area, city pools and park maintenance.
City Council unanimously approved Napier’s contract on Tuesday. His selection as the replacement for V.H. McDonald, who abruptly retired in April, was announced earlier this month.
Napier oversaw Gillette’s budget during the worst of the energy downturn, ultimately slashing $60 million in city spending there.
Napier said reserves provide an important way for cities to transition to a lower level of spending but that his goal was to create a budget that does not rely on savings.
But he may disappoint Council members hoping for an austerity budget in Casper. In an interview two weeks ago, Napier said that Casper must to remain competitive with nearby states — most of which are not suffering an economic slump — in order to attract businesses and keep residents. That means maintaining many of the municipal amenities that Powell said spending decisions hinge on.
“It’s a real conundrum,” Napier said.