Casper City Council rejected $18 million in spending cuts at a special meeting Tuesday evening. Instead, members decided to leave the budget proposed by Interim City Manager Liz Becher two weeks ago almost entirely intact, agreeing to discuss major cuts over the coming months.
The meeting was called after several Council members balked last week at approving Becher’s budget, which uses one-quarter of Casper’s $20-million reserve fund to maintain city services.
Councilman Dallas Laird requested that staff prepare a summary of what the budget would look like if the city was not able to spend $5 million in reserves, saying that he couldn’t be expected to read hundreds of pages included in the proposed budget.
On Tuesday, Becher presented a document outlining $18 million in possible savings, including ending the city’s North Platte River restoration effort, closing all outdoor pools, the Casper Recreation Center, Aquatics Center and Ice Arena and entirely privatizing municipal fleet maintenance.
Reaching the $18 million would also require moving one-cent funds earmarked for capital projects to the city’s general fund.
“This is the one-page summary,” Becher said. “Not three, or four, not fifteen — a one-page summary for your consideration.”
Though grateful to staff for preparing the summary, Laird had little interest in making any of the cuts offered save for the municipal alcohol court, which retained the support of other Council members.
“My whole purpose, truthfully, was to get people to think about cuts,” Laird said.
Council members agreed to postpone consideration of major cuts or streamlined city operations until a permanent city manager is hired sometime in the next few months.
The only significant adjustment to Becher’s proposal came in police funding. Members agreed to provide $90,000 more for professional development than Interim Chief Steve Schulz had initially asked for and also approved a request for $200,000 in improvements to the department’s tactical training range.
Otherwise, members approved $218,000 in cuts to the budget proposal. However, nearly all of those cuts were recommended by Becher or city staff.
Several Council members pushed back against the narrative that the city was being reckless by spending a significant amount of reserves, noting that the proposed budget cuts spending and that Casper is operating with far fewer resources than several years ago.
“When people see we’re spending $5 million in reserves some people automatically react, ‘Well the city is asleep at the wheel,’” said Councilman Charlie Powell. “Actually, we’ve seen budget cuts going back a number of years.”
Council members identified a number of areas that may be cut or have their budgets reduced in discussions over the next few months, setting a goal for making more decisions by Oct. 1.
The budget will be officially approved in late June for the fiscal year starting July 1.