Sinking energy prices took their toll on Casper’s economy in recent years and city leaders initially thought they’d need to rely on approximately $4 million in reserves to plan the budget.
But in November, City Manager Carter Napier proposed an amendment to the fiscal year 2017-2018 annual appropriation that almost entirely eliminates the usage of reserves. City Council unanimously approved the amendment in November, and praised Napier for finding a solution that did not involve layoffs.
Fixing the city’s budget didn’t happen overnight, however.
One of the first steps taken by Napier — who began his tenure in June — was to encourage the hiring of a Chief Financial Officer.
“For an organization that is this sophisticated and deals with this many services and deals with the volume of tax dollars that we do, to not have a CFO in my estimation is a huge vulnerability,” Napier told the Star-Tribune in July.
Tom Pitlick, who previously served as a finance director for the city of Gillette, joined the city staff in September.
A series of budget cuts intended to save the city $1 million annually also took effect in September. City employees’ wages were frozen, employees with more than 200 hours of disability time had excess hours reduced and employees were no longer permitted to convert extra disability time to vacation time or the salary equivalent at the end of each calendar year.
The amendment factored in these projected savings, and also relied on darkening 10 vacant positions and a renegotiated contract with Rocky Mountain Power to cut back on the usage of reserves.
Although Napier previously acknowledged that shuttering positions will likely increase the burden on the remaining staff, he said he does not believe most of the changes will have an effect on private citizens.
For example, two vacant positions at the Police Department — a community services officer and a criminal intel tech — will not be filled, but Napier said that should not alter public services.
“Those positions do not take away from patrols on the street,” he said. “Those are support positions and they won’t reduce the amount of officers that we are able to deploy on a nightly basis.”
The new contract with Rocky Mountain Power is expected to bring in an additional $800,000 annually for the city, according to the city manager.
Like the current contract, which expires Dec. 31, the new agreement will grant Rocky Mountain Power an electric utility franchise in Casper, which allows the company to have a general utility easement to locate its electrical facilities in public areas, such as streets and alleys.
However, the new contract stipulates that the city will receive an increased franchise fee of 7 percent of the electrical company’s gross revenues derived from within the corporate limits of the city. This 2 percent increase will last for four years.
The amendment also factored in an unexpected sales tax revenue bump of $680,000, and smaller changes, such as cutbacks to training, travel and office supplies in various departments.