The Casper City Council talked on Tuesday about a plan for use of one-cent optional sales tax if the tax is renewed this November. (Screenshot via City of Casper, YouTube)

CASPER, Wyo. — A grant program supporting nonprofit organizations has been restored to Casper’s latest proposal for use of one-cent optional sales tax dollars over the next four years if voters choose to renew the tax this November.

After a range of nonprofits told the Casper City Council the loss of support from one-cent under city staff’s original proposal could hurt the services they provide to thousands of Casper area families, City Manager Carter Napier presented the City Council during its Tuesday, July 12 work session with a way to keep the grant program alive over the next four-years.

The proposal would direct $2.25 million in one-cent dollars toward the grant program over the next four years. That would be a reduction from the $3.05 million the grant program supporting nonprofits was allocated during the current four-year one-cent cycle.

Other aspects of the city’s overall one-cent proposal need to be changed to support the nonprofit grant program. Part of the reason staff’s initial proposal was to eliminate the grant program was because the list of needs city leaders see for use of one-cent far exceed the $64.5 million it expects the tax will generate if renewed for the next four years. The City of Casper anticipates its share of one-cent optional sales tax revenues will total $64.5 million over the next four years if voters choose to renew the countywide tax this November. The $64.5 million is enough to fund just over half of the $128.8 million in requests Casper department heads identified as top priorities when coming up with an initial proposal for the City Council to consider.

$1 million for the design of a new Fire Station 1 would no longer come from the next one-cent cycle under the proposal Napier presented to the City Council on Tuesday. However, he said it is still important the design get completed and recommended the City Council allow staff to use excess revenues from the current four-year one-cent cycle which staff estimate will total around $5 million.

Councilmember Bruce Knell recommended the city rely on its Opportunity Fund rather than the projected one-cent overages from the current cycle to avoid getting into the practice of funding things based on revenue that has yet to be collected. Napier said he would be comfortable leveraging the Opportunity Fund for the design of the fire station.

An additional $600,000 included in staff’s initial one-cent proposal was money intended to help leverage grants for a fiber optics project. To help make room for the nonprofit grant program, Napier recommended that instead be funded through the Opportunity Fund.

Staff then presented the City Council with two different options to come up with the remaining dollars under the proposed one-cent plan for the nonprofit grant program. Napier said the $1.3 million proposed to help keep swimming pool fees low could be reduced in half.

The other option besides reducing that swimming fee subsidy would be to reduce some funding for facilities maintenance. Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Director Zulima Lopez walked the City Council through the details of what that reduction could mean during the work session.

After Councilmembers Knell and Lisa Engebretsen spoke against reducing the swimming pool subsidy, the City Council agreed to reduce the funding for facilities maintenance to come up with the remaining funding for the $2.25 million one-cent grant program.

While the City Council talked about how the one-cent grant program would work, Mayor Ray Pacheco suggested Tuesday that discussion be held at a future work session.

Councilmember Jai-Ayla Southerland requested some other modification to the staff proposal relating the the police department’s requests. She recommended directing $150,000 the police department requested for the purchase of an armored vehicle to put toward work at the Metro Animal Shelter. She also asked whether it might be possible to direct some of the $5.35 million the police department asked for toward other vehicle purchases toward Metro Animal Shelter instead.

Napier advocated against modifying the proposed budget for police vehicles or for the armored vehicle, arguing that vehicle was needed for safety. While the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office has an armored vehicle that can be used in emergencies throughout the community, Councilmember Steve Cathey said a second one could have added additional protection for officers responding to situations like a standoff that occurred in Evansville earlier this year.

Knell said he thinks he has been a strong supporter of the police department but that people commenting on social media in response to a story about the police department’s proposed purchase of the armored vehicle seemed mostly against the purchase.

Rather than decide about the armored vehicle, Napier suggested the City Council move $150,000 out of the police department’s police vehicle request toward Metro Animal Shelter.

With the City Council tentatively agreeing to the proposals on Tuesday, staff will begin to prepare a resolution for the City Council’s formal consideration. Passing a resolution establishing projects that could receive one-cent funding over the next four years if voters renew the tax is a way of making a commitment to residents as to how revenues from the tax will be used.

Several on the City Council talked about the importance of being able to make compromises in order for communities to function well together. The City Council’s full discussion of one-cent can be heard starting around the 1 hour, 15 minute mark in the YouTube recording of Tuesday’s work session:

YouTube video