Casper’s city wage freeze is coming to an end.
“I think across the board for the entire organization we are doing a great disservice by not paying people what they should be getting paid,” City Councilman Steve Freel said at the council’s Tuesday’s work session. “It’s been turned off long enough. We’ve seen growth and we’ve gotten out of our deficit. … It’s time to quit making (employees) pay the price for it.”
Like many communities throughout the state, Casper’s economy took a major hit a few years ago due to sinking energy prices. The freeze was one of many cutbacks implemented in 2017 to help city leaders balance the budget without using reserves.
But council members agreed Tuesday that it was time to reverse that decision.
“I just don’t see how we can retain people (if we don’t unfreeze wages),” Mayor Charlie Powell said.
City Manager Carter Napier said Friday that the unfreezing of wages won’t be formally adopted until the city passes a budget amendment this spring.
Napier, who enacted the freeze in September 2017, said it was a necessary but unpopular decision.
“The employees were not happy about it,” he acknowledged.
Napier, who began his tenure with the city in the summer of 2017, was tasked by the City Council with reducing approximately $4 million in reserves slated to be used in the budget.
But the city manager said Friday that the city is bouncing back from the last bust.
“I do think that we have recovered to some extent,” he said. “The future will tell with regard to being able to sustain it over time, but I think the indications are strong.”
The city manager previously explained that the wage freeze, which saved the city about $500,000 annually, helped to prevent layoffs.
Several council members have expressed concerns throughout the last year that the freeze was making it difficult to recruit or retain employees.
At a work session in May, Kenyne Humphrey, who was then a councilwoman, warned the Council that city employees were going to head for the door unless changes were made.
“Let’s fix (the situation with) our employees and make it right,” she said. “... I feel very passionate about this.”
Vice Mayor Shawn Johnson has also advocated for ending the wage freeze.
“One of our touchstones is public safety,” he previously said. “I don’t think we can effectively recruit and retain quality people in our police department or in the city in general (with frozen wages).”