The Casper City Council is re-examining its relationship with an economic development organization that annually receives about $400,000 in public funds.
The Casper Area Economic Development Alliance works to bring new businesses to Casper and to help existing businesses improve their profitably. The public funding is directly given to the Economic Development Joint Powers Board and then trickles down to CAEDA.
The city’s current contract with the powers board isn’t scheduled to end until 2025, but some Council members want to terminate the long-term agreement and establish another contract that would need to be renewed on an annual basis.
“I think we would be doing a service to our taxpayers and our future councilmen,” said Councilman Dallas Laird.
The councilman, who has frequently criticized CAEDA for failing to provide enough information about how it spends public money, said the city should be able to review the organization’s contributions and plans each year before deciding whether to provide the funding.
Councilman Chris Walsh agreed with Laird, and said he would support applying this policy to all agencies.
But other council members firmly objected.
Councilman Bob Hopkins said it was unreasonable to expect the development alliance to operate from year-to-year without knowing if they could depend on public funds. Long-term contracts are not unusual and the city has lengthy agreements with many different agencies.
“This is a business standard,” said Hopkins.
Vice Mayor Charlie Powell also said he didn’t have any concerns about the city’s relationship with CAEDA. Powell credited the development alliance with helping to diversify the city’s economy, which he said will soften the effects of the next bust cycle.
Given that the city has long-term contracts with other groups, Councilman Shawn Johnson said he thought it was unfair that only CAEDA was being directly mentioned.
“Why is CAEDA the scapegoat?” he asked.
The Council ultimately decided to continue discussing the issue at a later work session.
CAEDA drew ire from some council members, including then-Mayor Kenyne Humphrey, last summer for failing to report how it spends public dollars.
Charles Walsh, the president and CEO, told the Council in July that the organization solicits private funds to use for investments in amounts that dwarf the public contribution. CAEDA officials are therefore concerned that fully opening the group’s books would sink confidential negotiations to recruit businesses to Casper.
“I told you guys we needed numbers,” Humphrey told Walsh. “I’m disappointed we didn’t get those.”
He also provided a document listing some of CAEDA’s recent achievements, which included hosting site visits with prospective businesses and promoting Casper during the Wyoming Eclipse Festival.
Some council members, including Mayor Ray Pacheco, thought the documents provided a sufficient amount of information. But others weren’t satisfied.
Laird and then-City Councilwoman Amanda Huckabay criticized the report for being too vague and said they wanted a more detailed listing of expenses.
“People have to be responsible with city money,” Laird previously said. “You shouldn’t give anybody 10 cents of city money unless they tell you exactly what they’re going to do with and how it’s going to benefit the taxpayers.”