Casper City Council Hears Some Grim News With Proposed Budget
After all the numbers, the dollars, the percentages, and the departments, the proposed city budget cuts of about $3 miilion because of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic boil down to this: a probable loss of services with broad public use.
"This hits people in services directly that citizens enjoy such as streets that don't get resurfaced," City Manager Carter Napier told city council members at a work session on Monday.
The city's public pools in parks are very popular, too, Napier said.
But they cost money and the unknowns about the coronavirus pose environmental and health risks.
Despite their popularity, he made that decision because the alternative to have a balanced budget was to dip into the city's reserves necessary to maintain all operations if all revenue streams stopped.
The proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was released to the public on Sunday. The council heard about some of its consequences Monday and will further discuss them at a work session at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, which can be seen on the city's YouTube channel or on cable access channel 192.
The 237-page document details the city's projected revenues and expenses overall and by department, general purpose funds, special revenue funds, the capital fund, parks and recreation funds, the parking fund, and internal service funds.
The projected 20% anticipated in revenues from sales taxes and other sources means a 20% decline in expenses for the general fund, which accounts for the basic services including police, fire, municipal court, streets, code enforcement, parks, the cemetery and other basic operattions.
That decline in expenses is not abstract accounting.
It's about people, including city employees.
Napier proposed a furlough program for employees before the current fiscal year ends June 30. Higher-paid employees would be furloughed for more days that lower-paid employees. Employees would not be paid during that time, but their benefits would continue.
He also proposed cutting funding for the city's popular parks and trails, including reducing watering the grass and trees.
Earlier Monday, the city's Chief Financial Officer Tom Pitlick said the uncertainty about the coronavirus and the economic fallout marks the biggest challenge with crafting the proposed budget.
Napier said a major unknown with the proposed budget is what happens with the Legislature, which just finished the first of at least two special sessions to allocate the state's allocation of the federal Coronavirus.
The state faces its major budget issues and among those would be its direct distribution to local governments, of which Casper has received about $4 million a year in recent years.
"That would be a cataclysmic issue to deal with if we lose direct distribution," Napier said.
In addition to the $3 million in cuts the city council needs to deal with, the loss of that $4 million would result in even more drastic cuts to the general fund budget, he said, adding that he urged local legislators to not let this happen without an alternative.
"That would be a horrible scenario for us," Napier said.
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