The Casper City Council at a work session Tuesday approved nearly $100,000 worth of improvements to the downtown parking garage on South Center Street.

While the money is already available in the $385,000 in the virtually untouchable parking reserve fund, two council members cautioned that no fund should be considered sacrosanct because the city may need the money to cope with revenue losses from the economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As that money is still available, Community Development Director Liz Becher told the council that the city over the years has made improvements to the building, constructed in 1980 for $1 million, that is now worth more than $2 million.

Recent improvements including replacing all the lights to better illumine the building, Becher said.

The city staff and the Downtown Development Authority, which manages the garage, now recommend three major improvements:

  • Replace the low-resolution security cameras. Consultants with Comtronix recommend 22 new cameras for $29,132 plus $20,000 for installation for a total cost of $51,132.
  • Install new a new access control system with new gates and access cards for $8,000. Regular users would be issued a coded lot access card with their information embedded in the card, and swipe it at the card reader upon entry and exit. The system also would have a paper ticket machine that occasional users would take upon entry and pay when they leave. The change will save money by not automatically dispensing tickets to monthly, pre-paid users, and it would save time for the ticket booth employee by not having pre-paid users to stop.
  • Replace the signs at the Center and Wolcott entrances that are difficult to read, poorly positioned and not well-lit at night. The new signs including installation will cost $30,000.

"These proposed improvements will enhance the customer experience, provide for the health and safety of our community members, and continue to make the garage more inviting as a parking option," according to Becher's memo to City Manager Carter Napier in the meeting's agenda.

The parking garage operates at 80% capacity, she told the council.

But the city needs to look at a much bigger and tougher problem, council members Steve Cathey and Mike Huber said.

Cathey asked if transferring the money from the parking garage reserve fund to another account would be possible if the city needed it elsewhere.

Napier responded the municipal code probably could allow that, but he would be hard pressed to justify it to deal with the budget. "The parking reserve is more sacrosanct than most."

Huber carried Cathey's question further, saying Casper is heading for a bad financial time with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the loss of revenue from the collapsed oil sector that threatens to shut down parts of city government.

"We're going to have to look in every single account under every single stone, every plank, every board," Huber said. "I think we're going to be called upon to make some really challenging decisions about this, and part of that might be that we have to look at some of these set-aside accounts."

On the other hand, Bob Hopkins said the city has made a good investment with the parking garage and it's worth it to use the money in the reserve fund for improvements.

"To not spend the money would be really, really short-sighted," Hopkins said.

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