Just as Charlie Powell warned, Casper’s would-be savior did not arrive on a white horse.
“I drove in a white Dodge,” Carter Napier said of his two-hour journey south from Gillette. “It is white, though.”
Powell told his colleagues on City Council in a meeting last week that Napier, Casper’s new city manager, would not come bearing panaceas for the budget woes in the Oil City.
While a majority of Council expressed concerns about spending $4 million in reserves in the budget that will take effect July 1, they agreed to pass it with the understanding that Napier would review it and presumably quickly reduce spending.
Napier, whose first day was Monday, said he watched the Council meeting where members loaded hopes onto his pending arrival.
“I appreciate that, on the one hand,” he said. “But it’s also a pretty daunting task to take on right from the beginning.”
Napier said he can bring proposed budget amendments to Council by the Oct. 1 deadline, which several members requested during discussions in the last few weeks. But whether those amendments will have the level of cuts those members are seeking remains to be seen.
The most vocal budget critic was Councilman Dallas Laird, appointed to Council just days before the financial talks began. But several others shared some of his complaints. Both Chris Walsh and Jesse Morgan were frustrated that the budget session had not been more interactive, and Shawn Johnson, Amanda Huckabay and Mayor Kenyne Humphrey all suggested they would also be looking to Napier for additional areas to cut spending.
“I am OK with passing it, letting Carter take a look at it,” Johnson said at a work session earlier this month. “We can always make amendments later.”
Laird, who was the lone vote against approving the budget, repeatedly brought up specific expenses — such as the municipal court — whereas some Council members spoke more generally of a desire for more options to be presented by city staff.
Morgan said he would have liked to see a study outlining whether certain public services, like road maintenance, could be performed less expensively if they were privatized.
But Powell argued that while Napier has a strong track record as a city administrator in Gillette and Riverton, $4 million in savings was unlikely to emerge entirely through efficiencies and smart administration.
Rather, Council would need to cut services or drastically scale back recreation offerings like public pools and Hogadon Ski Area — policy decisions that are beyond Napier’s duties as city manager.
“Carter has expertise on creating a balanced budget,” Powell said. “Carter Napier can’t print money.”
Napier said he enjoys fiddling with numbers and crafting budgets and said he will look for efficiencies, including a potential restructuring of city administration. He ruled out layoffs and suggested major service reductions would not be proposed by October. In Gillette, he said cutting back on services was done only following public feedback that began 12 months before the changes were approved as part of a formal budget.
Likewise, he said layoffs — if necessary — could not be rushed.
“That, to me, would be one of those longer, worst-case scenario kinds of solutions, and so to try to jump right into that first quarter would be hasty,” Napier said.
That likely rules out some departmental consolidation or privatization floated by Council members during the budget process, because those moves would save funds largely by eliminating staff positions.
Napier largely agreed with Powell’s claim that there was no easy fix to the budget.
“I bet there’s not a honey pot anywhere,” Napier said.