Casper Faces Wage Freezes, Furloughs, Closing Pools and Pain
It all hurts.
And it could hurt even more later.
"None of us take any pleasure in this," Casper City council member Charlie Powell said during a work session Tuesday conducted by teleconference.
The council already decided to drastically cut spending for capital projects funded by optional one-cent sales tax revenues only with cash on hand and not anticipating any future revenues.
Tuesday, it got personal and painful.
Powell asked what is being done if the revenue shortfalls are even worse than predicted.
Casper City Manager Carter Napier that the staff been looking at "more draconian measures with the budget," but didn't go into details.
The proposed budget, drastically ratcheted down because of anticipated revenue losses from the businesses closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, would have implemented a wage freeze starting in the 2020-2021 fiscal year beginning July 1.
But Napier said he wouldn't be doing his job without making the painful recommendation that the city could save $120,000 if it implemented the wage freeze a month early starting Monday, June 1.
Council member Mike Huber said he didn't like cutting wages. "I really, truly don't have a stomach for that."
Huber sees that the more draconian measures will be needed, and the council should freeze the wages earlier and it sickened him to do it, he said. "I just don't see a good shiny picture here."
No decision is final until formally voted by the council, Huber added.
Ken Bates asked if the council could put off the decision until the pre-meeting before the regular meeting next Tuesday so council members could further research the issue.
Powell believed the employees will understand, adding that council has made up for past wage freezes when the economy improved.
If decisions such as these are not made now, more draconian measure might be needed later, he said.
Council also previously agreed to a system of furloughing employees, and Napier said that the city will try to work with them if they want to take their furlough days so they could have three-day weekends.
Mayor Steve Freel said he wants council members to look at any other possible areas to cut if it could mean not hurting the employees.
While recreation seems to pale by comparison with a wage freeze and furloughs, it's still important.
The council previously decided to not open the public pools this summer in part because of the public health restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus and in part because of the cost.
Bates objected, saying a lot of people told him they want the pools open, even if they were to charge more.
Freel said that wouldn't be economical because private companies like Water World in Colorado have canceled their seasons, and if they couldn't make it work with public health restrictions, neither could Casper.
"I know people are upset and not happy that they’re closed," Freel said.
Bob Hopkins concurred, saying it was not possible to keep reasonable social distancing at pools, although he'd like to see the splash pads stay open.
Council members who spoke about cutting such popular services knew they would catch some mean flak for it
"We're staring at an unprecedented budget shortfall," Ray Pacheco said.
"This is what we were elected for," Pacheco said. "I’m a huge youth advocate. This hurts bad for me."
Powell said the council also previously decided to cut its support for about 30 nonprofit social service agencies that work with children, senior citizens, families, victims of domestic violence, food assistance and the library
Napier said they were willing to cooperate, "while gritting their teeth, knowing that it all hurts, have been their response."
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