The Casper City Council at its work session Tuesday tentatively approved slashing the city's capital projects budget -- funded mostly by the optional one-cent sales tax -- by more than half for the fiscal year starting July 1.

"It is a year of pain, if you will, as it relates in trying to do projects with money that we can scrape together," City Manager Carter Napier said during a virtual meeting of the council.

Council member Bob Hopkins said the nation has lost two-and-a-half months of productivity, and that doesn't count the losses in the oil and gas industries. "Next year may be a more painful year."

The proposed changes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and crashed oil prices would eliminate the $3.4 million budgeted for the initial work for a new police station and cut more than $2 million for street repair, plus dozens of other reductions, according to the agenda for the work session.

The discussion about capital projects probably will continue into next week, and that dovetails with proposed 20% reductions in support from the city to 30 social service agencies, Napier said.

City budgeting usually involves anticipated expenditures with anticipated revenues, with the assumption that both are predictable, according to a memo to Napier from Assistant Financial Services Director Pete Meyers.

"But with the current financial situation, City Staff is recommending that we move to a spending model that does not anticipate revenue," Meyers wrote.

"Instead, the envisioned spending plan would call for the City to only spend capital dollars that are 'in hand,' or already collected," he wrote.

Optional one-cent -- or "fifth cent" -- sales tax revenues in the city are used almost exclusively for capital spending, and the city has $9,453,002 of that funding in hand and not yet spent or committed to an existing project, Meyers wrote.

"Under the new spending model, this would represent the new limit for what would be spendable on One Cent funded projects," he wrote.

In March, the council budgeted more than $16 million from one-cent funds and other sources for fiscal year 2021, but the new plan will reduce that amount by 54% to $7.6 million, he wrote.

The revised plan would cut $911,000 from current budgeted projects in the fiscal year ending June 30.

The cuts for fiscal year 2021 will amount to $8,786,401.

The city had anticipated total revenues from one-cent and all other funding sources to be $19.1 million, but is now anticipating revenues at $9.4 million, or 51%.

"We're all really flying blind as it relates to what we really think we're going to get in the form of revenue coming up over the next year," Napier said

He said the plan to spend only what is on hand is a sound policy, but it will affect major projects approved earlier by the council including the need for a new police station and street repair.

In January, Police Chief Keith McPheeters told a town hall meeting that the department has outgrown the 43-year-old building for office space, evidence storage, meeting areas between officers and crime victims, technology and other matters.

In February, a consultant for IMS Infrastructure Management Services, LLC, told the council that Casper would need to double the $3.6 million annually allotted for street repair just to stay even on the deterioration of the city's $555 million worth of streets. Anything less than that would mean the city would need to spend more in the long run, the consultant said.

The proposed changes also include not going forward with a major remodel of City Hall, other than the $450,000 already contracted for design and related work, Napier said.

However, the city does need to spend money on some big-ticket items including $600,000 for a new fire engine and $950,000 for police patrol vehicles, he said.


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