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VIDEO: Casper sees $178M in pressing infrastructure needs amid uncertain revenue future

City Manager Carter Napier. (City of Casper, Youtube)

CASPER, Wyo. — The City of Casper is facing a number of pressing infrastructure issues that will need to be addressed in coming years.

As the Casper City Council looks to establish council goals and objectives for 2021, staff have identified a number of projects that would require about $178 million to address.

Staff outlined projects that need attention as follows:

  • Upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant (~$21 million)
    • the plant needs to be upgraded for nutrient and selenium removal
  • A new police headquarters (~$40 million)
    • the police department’s current space is “woefully inadequate”
  • Stormwater system has a backlog of ~$40 million in repairs
    • system needs $1 million a year for annual operation but is currently operating on a budget of $40,000
    • the system prevent flooding and reduces water pollution
  • Streets
    • About ~$7 million a year is needed to improve street conditions
    • Current funding is at about $3 million per year
    • recent study showed only 4% of Casper streets are in “execellent condition”; target is 15%
    • backlog of streets needing repair is 13.5% compared to national average of 12%
  • North Platte River Restoration (~$20 million)
    • the restoration project is for economic development, water quality and conservation
    • involves partnerships with other government agencies and private organizations
    • project funding relies on grants and sponsorships
  • Aging building infrastructure
    • attention to aging infrastructure would need over $50 million “based on booked depreciation (requires further evaluation)
    • examples include the Casper Events Center, Recreation Center, City Hall, Fire Station No. 1, the Casper Senior Center, the Nic, Meals on Wheels
    • infrastructure is 40-50 years old “with significant security issues not conceivable when built”

City staff said in a document intended to help guide the council’s discussion about setting goals that “the critical issue facing the City of Casper is its decreasing revenue portfolio especially in light of the troubling legislative tone and the increasing needs and backlog of maintenance not only
for city operations and infrastructure but also for all the organizations the city has historically supported.”

The city council on Tuesday held a lengthy discussion on the topic of setting goals and objectives. City Manager Carter Napier said toward the end of the discussion: “I think I’m hearing the council coalesce around some things.”

He summarized several priorities that emerged from the discussion:

  • infrastructure planning/major capital planning
    • the council talked about how to prioritize projects with the city seeing a number of high-dollar projects at a time where the revenue picture is uncertain
  • citizen engagement
    • the council talked about how they can better reach out to the community and communicate with citizens
      • Council member Kyle Gamroth suggested the city lean into organizing more committees with citizen involvement
        • examples: technology advisory council, innovation and entrepreneur council, committee to look at animal issues
  • how to make Casper more attractive to new businesses
    • identifying what infrastructure is lacking to bring in new businesses
    • Napier noted that information technology needs are a frequent topic of conversation within the business community
    • Mayor Steve Freel noted that oil and gas can be a “roller coaster ride” in terms of the economy

Pollock said that with the city seeing “$178 million worth of projects just in this small list” that the city needs to develop a long-range capital plan that would prioritize projects and establish a timeline for realizing that plan.

While the city has conducted a range of planning and has worked with consultants to prepare reports on a variety of issues, Pollock said that a “fair criticism of these reports is that sometimes they just sit somewhere.”

She said such reports contain a lot of valuable information, but that the city could do better about using that information “to its full capacity” and suggested that the city could save the cost of contracting consultants to conduct such reports by being more proactive about updating the reports in-house on an annual basis.

Gamroth said he agreed with Pollock’s point regarding reports since those plans and reports “have a lot of data and evidence to support them.” Using these reports more effectively could help the city approach decisions more strategically, he said.

Council member Steve Cathey said he liked the suggestion that the reports and plans be continually updated in-house. He said this is a suggestion that has come up on previous councils, but that the city “probably ought to follow through” with the suggestion.

The plans would then “become living documents” without the city need to hire “all of these consultants all of the time,” Cathey said.

Freel said that something on his mind is identifying what Casper doesn’t have that would help attract new business and diversify the economy. Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco said that he thinks “the next five years are going to be a test” as the state struggles with declining revenues from the mineral industry.

He said that diversification in the state is “not what it should be.” With the state reluctant to find any new tax revenues, Pacheco said it will be important for Casper to figure out how to get things done despite a possible lack of funding.

Gamroth said that the Cheyenne City Council recently established a technology advisory council and that he thinks Casper should consider something similar.

He said that a technology council or an innovation and entrepreneur council could help drive the conversation when it comes to making Casper attractive to business development.

Gamroth said he thinks Casper has good entrepreneurial energy and that a council dedicated to that are is “something that I think would be cool for us to explore.”

He also suggested the council create a committee to look at trap, spay and neuter (TNR) programs or other ways to deal with feral cats. However, Cathey said he was reticent about forming such a committee since the council has heard TNR advocates say they were going to work on the issue but that those claims haven’t come to fruition.

Pollock said that the general suggestion of working with committees on particular topics was a good one.

“I do think that’s a really powerful way to harness the expertise, and the passion and the enthusiasm in our community,” she said.

Council member Lisa Engebretsen said she would like some background on how Casper was able to fund new infrastructure in the 1980s. She said she doesn’t recall the city being flush with funding at the time.

Napier said that city staff would do research on that question to present to the council and said such research might help identify solutions for the city to consider for the infrastructure needs it is facing now.

Council member Bruce Knell said he would like the council to switch around its meeting schedule since both the Casper City Council and the Natrona County Commission hold regular meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.

He said that this is a barrier to people in the community wanting to engage with both bodies. He suggested that the city council could flip their work session and regular meeting schedule to address this conflict. The city council holds work sessions on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.

Knell also said he remains hopeful that a committee working on the new police headquarters project will be able to find ways to fund the project without the $40 million estimated pricetag.

Freel said that he’d like the city to ensure that they are communicating with the public in a quick, effective manner. He said that he prefers an approach which gives citizens an idea of what the city’s plans are prior to plans getting underway.

Council member Khrystyn Lutz said that no matter what priorities the council sets, the revenue situation will likely decide for them. She said that she thinks the council will starting thinking in terms of “money in, money out.”

Napier said that with Casper’s revenue portfolio “possibly” shrinking, the council would indeed be forced to think hard about what facilities and programs city revenues go to subsidize.

Cathey said that in terms of the major infrastructure projects, the council wouldn’t be able to realize those this year but that they should figure out “what we can do this year to move forward on large projects….we’ve done enough can kicking.”

The council will continue their discussion of establishing 2021 goals and objectives at a later work session.

Their Tuesday, Feb. 23 discussion can be viewed online: