The Casper City Council on Tuesday passed a balanced budget of nearly $149 million for the next fiscal year that included a $113,000 cut to the local nonprofit Casper Area Transportation Coalition.

Councilmembers said they realized they're in a tough spot with trying to be fiscally responsible while supporting programs ranging from amenities to serving the neediest of residents.

"We're trying to figure this out," Dallas Laird said. "There's not one person on this council that's cold-hearted about any of this."

However, Kenyne Humphrey said the council did not make some of the hard decisions earlier this year about some amenities such as keeping the Fort Caspar Museum open during the winter. Basic needs come before amenities, Humphrey said, adding she would vote "no" on the budget for that reason.

Charlie Powell supported the budget, especially because it does not dip into the city's reserves.

The City Council has supported basic needs such as spending $1 million to upgrade the Lifesteps Campus, plus allocations for Joshua's Storehouse and the Wyoming Rescue Mission, Powell said, adding the Council -- contrary to rumors -- never considered eliminating CATC.

He will support adjustments that will look to restoring the full funding for CATC, he said.

The Casper Area Transportation Coalition started in 1982 as a door-to-door, demand-response service called CATC for people who are disabled and need rides to medical appointments, work, shopping and other necessities. (They're the cream-colored buses with the red trim.)

It expanded in 2005 with a fixed-route transit system that serves Casper, Evansville and Mills. Anyone can ride these buses. (They're the white buses with the blue, green, red and yellow stripes.)

The Coalition receives funding from Casper, Mills, Evansville, Natrona County (for the unincorporated areas), the Wyoming Department of Transportation, grants and other sources. The federal government matches the local government funding.

Last week, the City Council heard a couple of proposals from Metropolitan Planning Organization director Aaron Kloke: one to cut CATC funding 40 percent, and one with a 20 percent cut.

Councilmembers disliked both, but reluctantly agreed with the smaller reduction coupled with looking at ways to make The Bus routes more efficient.

Users of CATC and The Bus learned of the possible cuts two weeks ago, and the nonprofit Wyoming Independent Living held a meeting to help the riders organize.

Tuesday, some of them spoke to the council.

Mary Price said health problems forced her to quit driving and start using CATC. She got to know other riders, and learned some of them have it tougher than she does.

"In some cases it's a matter of life and death," Price said. "There are people that take The Bus that are on dialysis; they have to go to dialysis. There's people that have the medical appointments that are very important."

Mary Price. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media
Mary Price. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

After she spoke, she gave councilmembers petitions with 500 signatures from people who want the funding restored.

Councilmembers were sympathetic, and said they could amend the budget later.

They voted 8-1 for the 2018-2019 fiscal year starting July 1, and to renew the contract with CATC. The new contract is for $1,885,286, which reflects the budget cut and the loss of other funding for a total of about $254,000.

After council voted to approve the budget and the contract, Coalition director Marge Cole said the reduction will not affect services anytime soon, and work needs to be done with council and the public to make the system more efficient and restore the funding.

"We have to have time to identify what we're proposing to do because we have to get back together in the public meeting process, and give the public an opportunity to comment on what the proposed changes are before they can actually go forward," Cole said.

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