The City of Casper had good times and bad times that have affected how it crafts its budget, but nothing like happened with the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down much of the city's and Wyoming's economy and the resulting revenues.

"The biggest challenge for us is probably the uncertainty that we have," the city's Chief Financial Officer Tom Pitlick said Monday.

"I don't recall a time, at least in my career, where the entire economy has been affected something like this," Pitlick said. "It's difficult to anticipate the unknowns, I guess."

The proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was released on Sunday. Casper City Council will work on it at work sessions on Monday and Wednesday, and its decisions are only tentative. The council will formally approve a budget by mid-June.

The proposed budget anticipates a 20% reduction in sales tax revenues compared to the revised budget for the current 2020 fiscal year, which will affect recreation, utilities, infrastructure, city employee pay and other city operations.

Wyoming's boom-bust economy, intertwined with the energy industry, has affected budget proposals for a long time, but this is difficult, he said.

Even during the hard times, people and governments expected the prices to rise again and with that jobs and business and rising sales taxes.

This is different.

"We don't know how long it's going to take for the economy to recover; the biggest challenge is not knowing," Pitlick said.

The proposed budget is the total of the reports from the heads of all city departments, he said.

The city has accounts that can have funds transferred to departments if needed, Pitlick said.

Most departments submitted either flat or slightly above or slightly below requests for personnel expenses. An exception is the Casper Fire-EMS Department, with a proposed 4% pay increase, much of that worked out in the contract between the city and the firefighters' union, Pitlick said.

The biggest growth in expenses are in health insurance. City employees chose their health care plans late last year, so those costs were already fixed. Increases range from about 10% in personnel services to 129% in the engineering department.

The capital projects fund is expected to decline by 39% to $13.6 million in the proposed budget from the revised 2020 fiscal year budget, largely because of projected optional one-cent sales tax revenues.

The city also would cut the subsidy to Spectra, which manages the Casper Events Center by 20% to $884,544.

One of the few bright spots is the funding for the Casper Area Transportation Coalition with its CATC buses for direct-door service and The Bus for fixed routes. CATC received federal funding and will be able to increase its budget by 25% to $2.7 million.

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