City Manager Carter Napier announced in a memo this week that all city employees’ salaries or wages will be frozen as of Monday.
Napier, who began his tenure about two months ago, was tasked by City Council with reigning in spending and reducing the approximately $4 million in reserves being used in the budget.
This compensation freeze should save the city about $500,000 annually, according to Napier.
“These decisions are being made with the intent to hold off, as best as possible, the less desirable option of reductions in force,” he said.
Multiple changes regarding disability leave benefits will also take effect Monday.
The memo stated that city employees who have over 200 hours of disability time will have their excess hours reduced down to 200, and employees will no longer be permitted to convert excess disability time to vacation time or the salary equivalent at the end of each calendar year.
Napier estimated that these two changes should annually save the city $220,000 and $117,000, respectively.
Lastly, the memo announced that street sweeping services will be moved to the Solid Waste Division of the Public Services, which Napier predicted will annually save the general fund about $200,000.
The city manager thanked city employees in the memo for their “dedication and service” and explained that these choices were not easy to make.
However, Napier’s decision to freeze wages is especially notable considering city staff had explicitly avoided doing so during the budget session in May, which was overseen by then-Interim City Manager Liz Becher.
Human Resources Director Tracey Belser said at the time that Casper’s employee pay was in the 75th percentile in the market, a benchmark that was important to ensure that city jobs could compete for talent with private companies.
Councilman Chris Walsh, a former Casper police chief, expressed concern about the fact many standard raises had already been eliminated for public employees in the city.
“It’s been a couple years since our people have seen any kind of cola (cost-of-living adjustment) or raise or anything,” Walsh said during a May budget session meeting. “That’s what I want to look at.”
Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay raised the same issue, noting that the hiring freeze had led to employees being asked to serve in multiple roles. Becher agreed that this was a problem and something taken into consideration when crafting the budget.
“We have worried as to how thin the employees can get stretched,” she said.
But Councilman Dallas Laird pushed back on the issue of employee compensation, noting that some private sector employees have already taken pay cuts given poor economic conditions in the state.
“I get a lot of people telling me this year they didn’t get their bonus and they didn’t get their raise and that stuff,” Laird said. “So I guess they’ve accepted it in some areas.”
The budget prepared by Becher did not include cost-of-living adjustments but retained so-called “step” increases, where city employees receive a 5 percent raise for their first five years of employment in a given position.
The city also absorbed increased health insurance costs in the budget, a move praised by Mayor Kenyne Humphrey, who said that raising insurance costs for employees would be equivalent to cutting salaries.
“I know how bad it feels when that’s the way it goes,” she said in May. “So, yay.”
But while avoiding personnel or salary cuts in the budget, which was finalized in June, several City Council members said they expected Napier to find ways to save money once he arrived in Casper. Napier began his job in late June and said that while his goal was a budget that did not require the use of reserves, there were no obvious areas to eliminate spending.
Speaking at a budget meeting attended by several city employees, Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco cautioned Council not to amend the proposed budget to cut personnel. But he also noted that a new city manager might encourage Council to do just that, at which point he might become open to it.
“You’re doing something to people’s lives,” Pacheco said in the spring. “We are going to have to make cuts but I believe it’s going to have to be incrementally done.”