Casper Council Candidates Discuss Budgets, Transparency, and Infrastructure
On Wednesday, the Casper League of Women voters hosted another candidate forum, this time for the people running for the Casper city council.
At this forum, of the 14 candidates running for council in the primary, one from wards one and two and two from ward three, 10 showed up, with John Minchow, Travis Van Hecke, Ryan Amadio, and Brandy Haskins not in attendance.
One of the council candidates was not able to attend because they were at the politics in the park event that was taking place around the same time.
The candidates that win in the upcoming primary will then face off in the general election for the four open council seats.
The candidates were each asked in alternating order questions where they had a minute to respond, followed by questions that they had to provide an answer for in one sentence.
Throughout the forum, candidates were asked a variety of questions, ranging from topics like transparency, important issues, where to cut the budget, services the city provides, whether the council should be nonpartisan, and infrastructure projects.
When it came to where the council could tighten its budget, most of the candidates agreed that there aren't any specific areas where they should be cutting, but take a more holistic look.
Michael Bond, who's running in Ward 2, said that based on the results of the one-cent survey, the core functions of the city are where the focus should lie.
"Those critical services, fire, police, water, sewer, so anything after that, starting with, and none of these are pleasant to even think about or talk about," Bond said. "But they do have to do with those cultural aspects of our community, the recreational aspects of our community, those are the areas that are noncritical."
Dan Elston, who's running in Ward 2, said that it would be good to see how some departments could work with less.
"See if we could look overall to see if maybe instead of removing something in totality, we would be able to cut down a little bit on numbers where we could maintain our balance."
Nikki Green, running in Ward 2, said there needs to be some out-of-the-box thinking through shutting some of the recreational services down partially to lower costs.
"Maybe if we're looking for specifics, it would be rolling closures of the local pools, maybe it would be shortening the hours at the rec center or the ice arena," Green said. "Where services are still available, especially in specific neighborhoods where those things are only available Mondays and Wednesdays. Maybe the staff rotates among some of those facilities, some of those amenities because closing one thing specifically is going to be detrimental to some of the bigger city goals."
Eric Paulson, who's running in Ward 2, said he'll reduce spending across the board and require groups to cut budgets across the board to receive funds.
"I will reduce spending in just about every program," Paulson said. "I'll put an expectation on nonprofits to start reducing their overhead costs by at least 1% if they want government funding. Our goal should ultimately be to have these organizations be funding themselves, that's what we want, that's what we should strive for. Not the continued service of taking money for themselves, and giving it to whoever they want to give it to."
Trevor Mahlum, who's running in Ward 3, said that giving organizations a goal of cutting their budget will allow them the ability to find out where to slim down.
"The city council I don't think should be picking favorites," Mahlum said. "I think the city council's role is to figure out how much we should reduce by and give some parameters to staff. You have to go down by 5%, charge staff with 5% of your budget and figure out where that's going to come from. A little bit on that side of things, as a part of institutions that have gone through budget cuts, you get very good at determining what you actually need for your departments or programs when you're given that leeway and that freedom."
Ray Pacheco, representing Ward 3 as the mayor, said programs shouldn't be cut individually, and that the city does a good job balancing the budget as is.
"Specifically looking at one item and to say we're going to cut this, is usually not effective, it could be damaging to the community. We say we're gonna close all the pools, or we're gonna shut down the rec center, or do all that. We've done furloughs in order to save money. We've done all kinds of things to save money economically for the city. And contrary to a lot of beliefs, where people think we spend spend spend, Carter and the city staff are incredibly intelligent in helping us to craft the budget and to balance it."
Woody Warren, who's running in Ward 3, said that while some on the council do ask questions, he wants to make sure that someone is always ask why something needs to be funded.
"This is where it comes in running a facility for as long as I have for various retails. A lot of the time, that's what we have to do," Warren said. "And it's the main part of it is asking the question of why. If someone comes up and they're asking for money or asking for a budget increase, why do we need that, why does the city need that? Why do we need to continue to fund this? And that's the main thing. Now council, I will give a little credit to, there have been a couple of members that have done a lot better job asking why, they've gotten a lot more vocal about it."
Gena Jensen, who's running in Ward 1, said that many of the other candidates offered good suggestions and that she would make sure to listen to what the citizens have to say.
"They all have good suggestions when it comes to thinking outside the box and not until you're in the position, do you realize how creative you have to be. So I think that having an open mind and being a good listener and seeing what the city itself, what those needs are, is important too. We have to work together to get through tough inflation."
Dennis Rollins, who's running in Ward 1, said after operating a public access channel he understands how to operate with budget cuts.
"I knew the budget cuts were coming, and so I tried to take a budget cut in what I was being paid to supply that service," Rollins said. "And I extended it for about six months and then it just totally went away. So I think I understand a little bit about budget cuts, unfortunately. So I would take the approach, as so many others said, you can't just cut one thing. I know how that financially impacted me when that was taken away from me, so I would definitely look at an overall thing.
Jai-Ayla Sutherland, who currently is representing Ward 1, said that it's important that the one-cent funding is able to pass to continue funding city services.
"I agree with what so many have said that we have to look at this comprehensively, you can't just cut in one area. And if one-cent doesn't pass, that $64 million over the next four years that our community will be out. So we can pick on nonprofits, but that's $3 million of that 64. So the reality is our social services will suffer because they use that money to leverage other monies, but our poor infrastructure, our safety systems, they will really suffer. Because that's $61 million we'll be out."