What's Hot on the Hotline: If you experience delays in yard waste pickup, please call the Solid Waste Helpline at 402-444-5238 after 7:00 p.m. on your collection day or go to wasteline.org.Click Here
I have reorganized the Mayor's office to provide excellent customer service to everyone. My staff is here to help and inform you. We all bring different backgrounds and experiences to our jobs.Click Here
We value your comments, ideas and opinions and look forward to hearing from you. Please include your name in your email so we can provide a personal response. Unsigned emails may not be answered.Click Here
Mayor Stothert's Budget Address to Omaha City Council
July 22, 2014
Good afternoon council members and citizens of Omaha. It is a pleasure and an honor to be with you today.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the financial picture of our city, our proposed budget for 2015, and the priorities and goals we considered in our work.
I also want to thank each of you for your suggestions, and for being an important part of this budget process.
I am pleased with the financial health of our city and the hard work by many to get to this point.
I am also very pleased to announce today that our proposed 2015 city of Omaha budget will include a modest reduction in the property tax levy. This reduction will be the first property - tax- rate- cut since 2001; the first in 14 years.
The cut is two percent. Again, modest, and tempered by investments I believe we need to make in Omaha, most importantly in the area of public safety. This property tax rate cut will help make our city more affordable and competitive.
Now, I believe it’s important to look back one year and measure our progress on financial matters through today.
When I took office last June, we faced a $13 million shortfall in the 2013 budget. We ended 2013 with a cash surplus of nearly $12 million dollars.
The budget I proposed last year, for 2014, and you adopted, was designed to correct and balance a budget which was anticipated to be $19 million short.
Our approach was to resolve that with increased efficiencies and doing more with less, not tax increases.
So, where are we today?
Through the first half of 2014, we are pleased to report that nearly every city department is on budget and no department is far off their mark.
I believe we will end 2014 with positive results.
This contrasts with prior budgets that were overspent in some departments by millions several years in a row.
We have addressed significant, ongoing department overspending, especially in the fire department.
Now let me discuss 2015, next year’s budget and what we recommend to you and the citizens of Omaha. Several goals and priorities guided our work. I believe it’s important to share those with you and mention a few budget items for each.
First, my number one priority as mayor is public safety. Both the police and fire departments will receive additional funding to reflect this priority.
Specifically for the police department, we have budgeted for 21 additional police officers next year. This important enhancement to our crime fighting efforts will result in budgeting for 825 sworn officers for our city. It also approaches my long-term goal of 840 sworn officers, which we will achieve in 2016.
We must continue the progress we are making to reduce violent crime. The personal safety of all citizens is without a doubt, our most important responsibility.
Second - tax relief. As I mentioned, this goal is met by the first property tax rate cut in Omaha in 14 years. We worked very hard to incorporate some measure of property tax relief in our proposed budget. The 2% tax rate reduction will result in citizens paying about two million dollars less in property taxes next year than this year.
The 2% tax rate cut will also apply to newly annexed residents of our city, resulting in an even lower property tax rate than the vast majority of them pay now as part of their S.I.D.
Our third priority is to continue to build up our cash reserves. We recommend adding 750-thousand dollars to our cash reserve fund which will result in a $6 million balance; a record high. And, we advocate an increase of $650,000 dollars in the contingent liability fund that will result in a balance of one-point-nine million dollars.
These two “rainy day funds” are important for unanticipated expenses and economic fluctuations. It is my goal to increase these savings accounts even more in the years ahead.
Our fourth priority is spending restraint. General fund spending in several departments will be less next year than this year. In fact, when we started this process, I asked all departments to provide me with a draft department budget less than the current year.
After applying my priorities and goals, we recommend overall general fund spending at just 2.3% over the current year. As you would expect, most of the increase is due to wages and pension benefits currently being negotiated.
Our fifth priority is more effective management and this work is of course, never-ending. With our cabinet and key staff we have developed an administrative strategic plan. The portion of the plan dedicated to department performance standards is already saving money and improving workflow.
For example, projected 2015 expenses for employee and retiree health care are slightly less than this year. That’s very positive. This is due in part to efforts by our human recourses staff to manage health care expenses more effectively.
Another example is the planning department. We have restructured our leadership and improved processes to focus on our customers.
For the first time, we have standards of performance in our code enforcement division and we are expanding the use of Acella software, the on-line permit application and review system. By the end of this year, we expect more than 80 percent of all permits to be handled promptly and efficiently, on line.
The final goal is to support our neighborhoods and become a more livable city.
To help achieve this, we propose the following for 2015:
- Continued funding for the important neighborhood grant programs and significantly increased funding for neighborhood alliance support
- A large increase in funding for the step-up summer jobs program.
- Additional funding for our convention and tourism efforts to increase promotion, attract more visitors, and build on the reputation we have as a great city for regional and national sports and other events
- We keep our commitment to those who use our city parks, swimming pools, and libraries by maintaining their locations and hours, as they exist today.
- We have increased the street resurfacing budget by 200-thousand dollars to a total of seven-point-one million
- The budget for brick street repair will be doubled
- We will maintain nearly one million dollars in demolition and we will fill nine positions for building inspectors.
- This budget also includes an initial investment of 150-thousand dollars for an Omaha Land Bank.
On the revenue side of the budget, we project property tax revenues to be relatively flat.
We do however, expect strong retail activity and have budgeted a 5.7% increase in net sales tax revenue for 2015 compared to this year. Since several of our labor agreements are under negotiation at this time, we are allocating funds to the wage adjustment account.
This will allow us to sufficiently manage the results of the pending negotiations on future wages and pension contributions in 2015.
We will of course continue to keep you informed on the progress of these negotiations.
Each year our budget process is challenging and difficult, and it should be. We are spending the people’s money to improve their city and provide important services. While our priorities may differ at times, we must all work together to provide the most effective and transparent city government possible.
Of course, public input is important in this process and I welcome anyone who is interested to attend our budget public hearing in this chamber on Tuesday evening, August 12th at 7:00 p.m.
Having served on the Omaha City Council I certainly understand and respect your role in reviewing our budget in the coming weeks.
I hope as you progress in your work you will find that our budget enhances public safety, provides meaningful property tax relief, supports neighborhoods, builds our cash reserves, and welcomes new citizens to the city with high quality services.
Ours is a growing and vibrant city. We serve a creative, energetic, caring and enterprising community. I am proud of the work we have accomplished together on their behalf and am very optimistic about the future. Thank you!
Read the 2015 Recommended City of Omaha Budget on the Finance page.