Casper City Council To Amend, And With Hope, Balance Budget
Casper City Council earlier this year hired City Manager Carter Napier to help resolve the city's budget crisis.
Tuesday, Napier returned the favor when he asked council members to amend the 2017-2018 budget approved in July that required tapping $4.5 million of General Fund reserves to balance the General Fund budget.
"The amendment is the formal means that the council has available to them to reissue, if you will, the budget contract with the community," he said after a council work session.
"The basic idea is we are asking council to reduce a whole host of expenses with that amendment," Napier said. "And we are also asking council to recognize the revenues the city has already received that we would add into the math, if you will, of the new budget direction."
If the city passes the amendment, with its still-unspecified budget changes, the city could be in the black by the end of fiscal year 2019, Napier said.
But without a change in course, Casper will be broke by December 2020, he said.
Napier came to these conclusions after he and his staff reviewed the city's books, departments and structure.
He didn't like what he found.
"You're at a burn rate of just about 30 percent of your reserves a year," Napier said.
"When I came into this, I was hoping it was about 20 (percent), at the worst case scenario, 25," he said. "Not sustainable, not appropriate, and always bad."
Napier also thought the city's reserves were about $20 million, but they're closer to $15 million, he said.
The bad news continued. The fund for employee health insurance is much lower than it should be, and the city needs to double its 60-day reserves, Napier said.
But there's hope.
The city does have reserves, and it has resisted using optional 1 percent sales tax revenues for operating expenses, he said.
In the past two years, the city has shed 73 positions through attrition, and neither Napier nor council members want to lay off employees because to do so would affect services, they said.
Cutting expenses alone won't fix it all, Napier said.
The General Fund, compared to funds dedicated for purposes such as water and sewer, is the most precarious because it relies mostly on sales tax revenues that are at the mercy of a fluctuating minerals-driven economy.
Napier still wants the council to raise fees for some city services such as building permits that have not changed in many decades.
Some efforts to raise revenues also depend on the Legislature, which distributes state funds to municipalities. Cities and towns in Wyoming do not have the authority to levy taxes.
Napier also would like to see the creation of a local version of the Wyoming's Consensus Revenue Estimating Group that analyzes trends to predict the state's economic prospects.
Council members generally welcomed the proposed amendment.
But Chris Walsh wanted to see details and numbers.
"I can't vote for it unless I see it," Walsh said. "I want to see changes to each department."