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Casper sticking with raises in new budget; employees may get second 3.5% COLA if revenues allow

Casper police officers serve food at the department's block party in summer 2021. (Casper PD, Facebook)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Casper City Council plans to move forward with raises and a 3.5% cost of living adjustment for most employees at levels staff have been recommending under the proposed fiscal year 2023 budget.

The City Council talked about whether it should modify the proposed raises during its Tuesday, June 14 work session at the request of Councilmember Bruce Knell, who had said during the June 7 meeting he thought the proposed raise structure might treat employees at the top of their pay scale unfairly.

Knell said during the work session that he no longer had concerns the raise structure was unfair after Casper Support Services Director Tracey Belser and Financial Services Director Jill Johnson explained the proposal in a memo shared with the City Council.

There are 69 employees who will not get a raise under the proposal because they are already making more money than what their wage band provides for under the city’s wage structure, City Manager Carter Napier said. The majority of employees will get the 3.5% cost of living adjustment, but 13 will not because they are already earning wages at least 3.5% above the top of their wage range, Napier added.

Under the proposal, 67% of employees will receive 5% raises plus the 3.5% cost of living adjustment. Raises vary for other employees based on where they are at on their wage scale. The following chart included in the staff memo shows the breakdown:

“This is totally within the realm of where we should be,” Knell said of the proposed raises.

On the other hand, Knell said he would still like to look into possible adjustments to the city’s wage structure that have been implemented based on a study conducted by Graves Consulting at some point.

While not all employees will receive the 3.5% cost of living adjustment under the initial FY 2023 budget, Napier said he may recommend the City Council consider an additional 3.5% cost of living adjustment toward the end of the calendar year.

That depends on whether the city sees sales tax revenues at levels sufficient to support the additional cost of living adjustments, Napier said. If that cost of living adjustment happens, all city employees will be eligible. The extra cost of living adjustment would be to give employees further assistance in dealing with higher living costs due to inflation.

The proposed wage increase structure under the FY 2023 budget proposal treats employees who have been promoted in the last six months differently from other employees.

“Employees hired or promoted within the past six months will receive the 3.5% COLA and the difference of the percentage received of the 5% wage increase,” Belser and Johnson’s memo stated. “In example, if an employee was promoted in the past six months, and they received a 3% increase when they were promoted, they’d receive a 3.5% COLA plus a 2% wage increase.”

Councilmember Amber Pollock asked why employees recently promoted will see raises handled in this manner, adding that she sees a promotion as vertical movement through wage opportunities as separate from the lateral increases raises offer employees.

A primary reason for this is to help avoid wage compression, a situation in which the gap between an employee’s and their supervisor’s wages are considered too close, according to Napier. Another reason is that employees who receive raises quickly after promotion may tend to forget the raise was offered separately from their promotion, Napier added.

The city is asking for the authority to spend up to $165,930,287 during FY 2023 under its proposed budget. An increase in authorized spending compared with the FY 2022 budget is driven largely by an “aggressive” ~$41 million capital spending plan the city is able to pursue without dipping into any operational or statutory reserves because it saved up money with comparatively frugal spending on capital projects during the current fiscal year, Napier explained during the City Council’s May 31 work session.