The new mayor thanks Freel for helping Casper get through the pandemic; sees infrastructure funding as an upcoming challenge
CASPER, Wyo. – Ray Pacheco, a member of Casper’s city council, was sworn in as mayor at the first council meeting in 2022, returning to the leadership position after serving as mayor in 2018.
After taking the oath of office as mayor on Tuesday, January 4, Pacheco thanked fellow Council member Steve Freel for the leadership he provided as mayor. Freel found himself in the mayor’s seat when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Casper and held that position throughout 2020 and 2021 before becoming vice mayor on Tuesday.
“I wanted to thank him for his friendship, for his dedication, his tireless leadership and his steadfastness over the past two years at the helm of this board,” Pacheco said of Freel. “It cannot be overstated that the Vice-Mayor during his two terms as mayor led this council and our community through the most difficult times in recent memory. We are grateful, I am grateful, for your leadership.
Pacheco said he expects there to be challenges for the city in 2022.
“We will face challenges in maintaining and funding our urban infrastructure like our streets, city hall, Ford Wyoming Center, Hogadon, water treatment plant and the list goes on,” said declared Pacheco. “With state funding becoming increasingly unreliable, we will need to find unique and innovative ways to finance these needed urban properties. “
In addition to finding ways to fund infrastructure-related projects, Pacheco said he sees compensation for city employees as a priority the council needs to tackle.
“Most importantly, we will need to find ways to continue to support our municipal employees,” he said. “As we have addressed the wage freeze and wage stagnation, we need to ensure that all employees in the city are compensated fairly and equitably. “
To start the new year, the city has implemented 5% increases for full-time employees and police officers whose salaries have been frozen since the summer of 2020. Although salaries have been thawed, Pacheco said that he thought the board should find other ways to improve. compensation of employees.
“In the next fiscal year, finding funds for cost-of-living adjustments and broader pay increases for our employees should be and must be a priority for this board,” he said.
After highlighting infrastructure funding and employee compensation as some of the issues Casper faces in the coming year, Pacheco said after Tuesday’s meeting that the state’s revenue picture is a web of fund for the challenges facing the city.
“Obviously, we know state funding is limited,” Pacheco said. “It’s been like this for two, three years now, and I don’t know and I don’t see a way to get through this at this point without some tough decisions.”
“I don’t think we can get away with it, obviously, at the state level, but that being said, it also reverberates in all the cities, in the municipalities.”
Pacheco said he believes it is important to have a conversation with state lawmakers representing the Casper region and Natrona County and ask them how they stand up for the local community.
From Pacheco’s perspective, Casper will need to be innovative in finding ways to solve problems like infrastructure finance issues.
Funding, or lack of funding, for street projects is one example of the infrastructure challenges Casper faces. According to a report prepared by Infrastructure Management Services, only 4% of Casper’s roads are rated “excellent” and 13.5% of Casper’s roads are “late,” meaning they are bad or very bad. This study found that the city is expected to spend about $ 3.5 million more per year than it currently does on street maintenance projects.
Other infrastructure needs that city council discussed in 2021 include multi-million dollar upgrades needed at the wastewater treatment plant and an estimated $ 40 million backlog in system repairs. rainy waters. The city also explored how to find funding for a new headquarters of the Casper Police Department that could cost around $ 40 million. Completely addressing the infrastructure of aging buildings could require $ 50 million or more. Overall, city staff highlighted the urgent infrastructure needs of $ 178 million, as the council discussed in February 2021.
To address some of the infrastructure that Casper as well as the Midwest and Evansville face, voters in Natrona County were urged to consider a special-purpose “sixth cent” sales and use tax in November 2021. Voters rejected the proposed tax that would have been used to raise around $ 4.4 million. needed for a pair of infrastructure projects.
One was repairs to a roughly seven-mile stretch of pipe that brings potable water to Edgerton and the Midwest, which city officials say is currently succumbing to corrosion issues. The other was to complete the renovation of Midwest Avenue in downtown Casper from Walnut to Poplar. Street, which is slated to be a major thoroughfare when the new state office building opens on Collins.
Pacheco said that with the failure of the sixth cent, Casper will have to find other ways to fund the completion of the Midwest Avenue renovation.
“We know from conversations that we’re going to have to make cuts elsewhere,” Pacheco said. “[City Manager Carter Napier] made it clear if we are to do these things. It’s not even just the Midwest, but we have a plethora of other streets and I’m just talking about the streets.
“So when I mentioned it in my remarks on infrastructure, our work is going to be cut for us over the next year or so. And so I don’t have an answer yet.
Pacheco said he expects Napier to come up with a tight budget for the city when the time comes to create a new budget this spring and that he expects some of the infrastructure needs facing the city either confronted will likely remain on the back burner.
Pacheco said he understands state lawmakers also face a difficult task in determining how to meet the state’s urgent needs and that he does not envy the position in which they find themselves. find.
“But the point is, if you don’t have an income, what are our options? ” He asked. “… What decisions are they going to have to make to generate income? “
In his comments at Tuesday’s council meeting, Pacheco said he believes city council can show leadership during what he sees as a critical time for the United States.
“I have also come to a greater and deeper understanding of leadership over the past seven years,” said Pacheco. “Leadership is not always right. To be a true leader is to listen, listen and listen. And fully understand the views of others, even when you strongly disagree.
“You see, we have come to a turning point in this country and it is a turning point that has to start with this council where we have to lead with courage, knowing that we will not always agree and when we are not to okay, we can walk away from this dias by seeing you with dignity and respect. This coming year I challenge this council to find ways to be examples of that courage, to recognize humanity in others, to lead with compassion, understanding and hope. There are many young people in this chamber tonight. I sincerely hope that we can show these young people how government can work together for the betterment of this great community.
For his part, Freel said after being sworn in as deputy mayor that he appreciated the support he had received from former deputy mayor Khrystyn Lutz and Pacheco during his two years as mayor. . Freel said he also appreciated the level of research and thoughtfulness of city council members.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a better session tip that takes longer to get to the bottom of the issues and I 100% appreciate it,” Freel said. “… I appreciate it and appreciate being able to take on this leadership role as vice-mayor for this past year, so thank you.”
The mayor and vice-mayor of Casper are chosen from the members of the city council by vote of the members of the city council. Pacheco and Freel were provisionally elected by their peers to leadership positions in the board’s survey vote in November 2020. The board confirmed the results of the sample vote in a formal vote at Tuesday’s meeting.
The Town of Casper operates under the “council-manager” style of municipal government. The mayor holds more power in a town like Cheyenne, which operates under the “Mayor Council” style of government, than in Casper.
In Casper, the mayor is responsible for leading city council meetings and issuing proclamations on behalf of the city, but has no more formal power than other council members. The Mayor of Casper has a certain symbolic power and is invited to attend and speak at community events.
In Cheyenne, by comparison, the mayor is elected by the voters and serves as the city’s general manager. There, the mayor has the power to sign ordinances, appoint department directors and oversee the day-to-day operations of the city, as BallotPedia explains. The mayor of Cheyenne also has veto power over city council actions.
In Casper, the mayor has none of the specific powers above. Under the “Council-Manager” system of government, the city council as a whole shares oversight of general administration and policy and also has the power to collectively establish a budget. The city council also has the power to appoint a city manager to carry out the day-to-day administration of the city. In Casper, the city manager is Carter Napier.
The nine members of Casper’s city council include:
- Ray Pacheco (mayor)
- Steve Freel (vice-mayor)
- Steve cathey
- Lisa Engebretsen
- Kyle gamroth
- Shawn johnson
- Bruce knell
- Amber pollock
- Jai-Ayla Quest