Casper City Council Cuts Optional Sales Tax Funding For The Poor, Counters Previous Recommendations
The staff of the City of Casper did what it was told about recommendations for funding community agencies, especially those that serve the poor.
It apparently didn't matter, because the Casper City Council overrode its instructions to the city staff, and made their own recommendations.
And the memo of what council asked the staff to do apparently was expunged from the city's website.
But first, some history.
On Aug. 28, 41 government and social service agencies presented their requests for funding community projects from revenues from the next four-year cycle of the Optional One-Cent Sales (or "fifth penny") Tax No. 16 if Natrona County voters approve its renewal in November.
The total amount of the requests was $13.8 million. The estimated total revenues of the new fifth penny sales tax are $58 million, with up to $6 million of that available for community projects. Most of the $52 million would go to infrastructure including police, fire, water and sewer, streets, parks and capital construction.
A memo to City Manager Carter Napier dated Sept. 14 in preparation for Tuesday's work session recounted what happened since Aug. 28 with the proposals from the government and social service agencies.
On Sept. 4, council held a work session, discussed ways to allocate the money, and asked the city staff to make recommendations. The council asked the staff to deny funding for organizations that had not requested funding before, those organizations whose applications were late, and government agencies that receive funding from other sources.
Meanwhile, council decided to fold the requests of four organizations -- Casper Area Transportation Coalition, Platte River Trails Trust, Nicolaysen Art Museum, Casper Housing Authority -- into the infrastructure programs.
On Sept. 11, the staff presented its recommendations at a work session. In accordance with council instructions, of the remaining 37 agencies, 22 received funding and 15 did not.
The memo said staff was concerned the allocations for the concluding Optional One-Cent Sales Tax cycle amounted to $8 million because those allocations did not decline in response to the economic downturn and subsequent decline in sales tax revenues. So the staff trimmed the recommendations to $3 million, while recognizing "the benefit of supporting agencies that benefit the poor directly and contracting with agencies that do work that would otherwise be expected of the city."
After the staff made its recommendations, the memo added that some council members wanted to vote on the recommendations. Their recommendations would be averaged, and the allocations would be based on those averages.
As of Wednesday, this memo outlining what happened with the staff has been deleted.
See the current agenda for Tuesday's meeting for comparison.
The new agenda has votes from seven council members (the previous agenda on Monday listed six council members' votes). Kenyne Humphrey's results have not been included, but they probably won't affect the final averages much.
The votes from the council members were averaged, and their total recommendations came to $3,268,114.74, compared to the original staff recommendation of $3.0 million.
Council members voted for funding for agencies that they originally told the city staff to not recommend. These are the averages of some of their votes:
- $292,119.05 for the Natrona County Public Library.
- $16,428.57 for the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center.
- $214,285.71 for the YMCA.
- $216,428.57 for The Lyric (Citizens for a Civic Auditorium). City Attorney John Henley said The Lyric faces possible legal problems if it is funded.
The results of the council members' voting to fund those and other organizations led to reducing recommendations for social service agencies including:
- Interfaith of Natrona County requested and staff recommended funding of $240,000. However, after the council members' votes were averaged, Interfaith will receive $114,285.71.
- Poverty Resistance, which operates a free food bank, requested $112,500. Staff recommended funding of $75,000. But the council recommended $38,228.57.
- Central Wyoming Senior Services requested and staff recommended funding of $220,000. Council members recommended $176,031.71.
- Wyoming Food for Thought Project requested $165,000 and staff recommended $100,000. Council members recommended $54,285.71. However, Shawn Johnson voted to allocate the full $165,000 requested by the organization.
You can see how each council member voted on the updated agenda for Tuesday's meeting.
At Tuesday's work session, Dallas Laird said he did not submit his own recommendations, adding he would accept the staff recommendations for the most part.
Laird also criticized using the averages.
Chris Walsh said he agreed the city staff had insight into making the recommendations, but council members should have a voice, too.
Laird responded that the staff has more insight than council members, and that the council's priority should be to help residents who can't help themselves.
Charlie Powell reminded the council that the core goal of the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax is to pay for basic infrastructure, and these allocations to community service organizations are a small percentage -- about 5 percent -- of the total anticipated revenues.
Humphrey said if five or more council members recommend zero funding for an organization, that organization should receive nothing regardless of what the average is.
Mike Huber responded that would mean Joshua's Storehouse would receive nothing.
By the end of the work session, most council members agreed to go with the averages of their recommendations.
The final funding question centered on the Restorative Justice program, a nonprofit that would operate within the Casper Police Department. Restorative Justice requested $650,075.72. Staff recommended not funding it. The average of council members votes was $125,012.50.
The proposed funding was entirely for salaries, which is contrary to the general principle of funding organization's projects and capital expenditures.
So council members recommended not funding Restorative Justice and transferring $100,000 from that category to the Wyoming Rescue Mission. The staff -- acting on the council's original directive -- declined to recommend any money for the Rescue Mission because it filed its application late. Mayor Ray Pacheco said it was two hours late because of a misunderstanding of the deadline.
Some wanted that amount, some wanted more and some wanted less.
While the Wyoming Rescue Mission received more money, Laird again expressed his frustration with the process after council finished. "What we just did was absurd."
The city council will deal briefly with these issues at its work session next Tuesday. It will vote on a resolution authorizing the funding at its meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 2.
The following grid shows the organizations that applied for the Optional One-Cent Sales Tax No. 16 funding, what they requested, what city staff recommended, and the average of what city council members recommended.