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2015 State of the City Address
Good afternoon Council President Festersen, City Council members and citizens of Omaha. It is an honor and privilege to be with you today to present the annual State of the City address.
This is a time to reflect on our progress, highlight the resolve and spirit of our community, and challenge all of us to pursue excellence. It is also a great time to acknowledge something I believe is true; the perception of Omaha is better and stronger than ever.
From our beginnings 160 years ago when Omaha first began, our city has certainly evolved and flourished. We’ve played our part in the Midwest history of railroading, industrial growth, and livestock and agriculture commerce.
More recently, we’ve diversified through technology, higher education, finance, light manufacturing, healthcare, and small business.
Omaha is better today due to the determination, optimism, and wisdom of our citizens who care about our city.
Today we will recognize and celebrate the contributions of some of these outstanding people and organizations.
Challenges remain of course, and I will speak to those, especially gangs and violent crime, and yet, we will meet our challenges, just as we have met our successes, with a shared resolve and common purpose.
I mentioned the perception of Omaha, and I do believe:
Omaha is a city of identity.
In just the past year, Omaha has been named repeatedly at the top of lists ranking the best cities for quality of life, business, affordability, opportunities for young people, and other categories. According to Forbes, Omaha is a top-ten city for young entrepreneurs and number four for raising a family. We are number three for launching a start-up business, according to CNN money.
Omaha is also a city of financial stability. We are known as a financial and investment hub, and we make our money count. In fact, Kiplinger listed Omaha as the third most affordable big city.
We’re doing our part at city hall too. With your help, we turned around department overspending and financial uncertainty and ended 2014 with a nine million dollar surplus. We lowered the property tax rate and are working diligently every day to wisely manage taxpayer money. It isn’t easy, and it shouldn't be easy.
I am proud of the work our departments are doing to manage their finances and I hope you are too.
Omaha is a city of economic growth.
Development and construction of commercial, residential and new city-supported projects are strong. This activity is spread throughout the city.
The landscape of Omaha is, and will be changing because of exciting projects planned or already underway.
The Lumberyard District in old downtown Millard.
New construction near Village Point, including the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital.
Continued growth at AkSarBen Village, the UNO Arena opens this fall.
Pacific Life Insurance joins other business headquarters including Blue Cross-Blue Shield and Gordmans.
The civic auditorium site, and the Capitol District downtown.
The exciting collaboration with the Urban Land Institute to further develop our riverfront.
In north Omaha, the Highlander 75 North project and Prospect Village are both underway.
This summer, we will resurface Ames Avenue. The first phase will be 28th Avenue to Fontenelle Boulevard.
In south Omaha, the Deer Park neighborhood will benefit from a revitalization plan modeled after Prospect Village.
We are starting the exciting partnership with the Daniel Rose Center to study the north downtown area . We see great potential for business, entertainment and residential development in this area, from Riverfront Drive to 17th, Capitol Avenue to Grace. To be one of four cities selected for this unique partnership is truly an honor.
The best economic development, of course, starts with a good and challenging job for those in the workforce. The city is a partner in many programs that provide jobs and job training.
This year, we will increase city funding for the Step-Up Summer Jobs program to $500,000. This program provides more than just a summer paycheck Jobs help to develop self-esteem, teach time management skills and how to work as part of a team. The Step-Up jobs program provides that first job opportunity for many, and the Omaha businesses that participate have a new pool of eager job candidates.
It’s easy to see the success and benefits of the program by introducing Step-Up employees who have turned summer jobs into full-time work. Shailynn Holbert and Fonte Hamilton are full-time college students and full-time employees of American National Bank. American National became the first business to sign on to the Step-Up program seven years ago. In 2013 , the Salvation Army became a Step-Up employer. Jennifer Marquez-Rodriguez and Eric Brandon started as summer workers and are now employed by the Kroc Center in the food services program. The Salvation Army and American National Bank are providing opportunities for success. Thank you for your participation.
Congratulations to Eric, Jennifer, Shailynn and Fonte, your success and ambition sets an important example, and thank you to the Empowerment Network and your partners for continuing to grow this program.
This year, we have also increased funding for Heartland Workforce Solutions and, for the first time, we are providing funding for the new Kumani Center, a new workforce training program developed by Black Men United. By supporting these training and placement programs, we are making an investment in the future.
Omaha is a city of generosity.
Few cities can match our level of charitable giving and philanthropy. This is accomplished every day by organizations large and small; all doing important work. Recently, private donors funded a first-of-its-kind digital library that will open next year at 72nd and dodge. What a tremendous benefit for our city - especially our youth.
Likewise, the First Responders Foundation helps the Omaha Police and Fire Departments pay for equipment, public education and community programs.
Since 2010, the foundation has donated more than $850,000, so our fire department can buy and install free carbon monoxide detectors in your homes. So our police officers can coach and mentor kids in sports leagues and we can buy additional life-saving equipment and crime-solving technology.
The foundation is led by Executive Director Ray Somberg and his board of directors. Thank you, for recognizing that public safety is our number one community responsibility.
Omaha is a city of accomplishment.
American scholar Warren Bennis said, “Great things are accomplished by talented people who believe they will accomplish them." I’d like you to meet Rondae Hill, President of the Prospect Village Neighborhood Association.
The area is between Hamilton and Lake Streets, 30th Street to 36th. I first met Rondae on National Night Out. You may have seen her interviewed after the terrible shooting at 34th and Parker last month.
Eight people shot, three killed, in the heart of the neighborhood she grew up in, and loves. That night does not, and will not, define the good work underway in Prospect Village.
Rondae and her neighbors, many here today, are partners in rebuilding this neighborhood. The Prospect Village Initiative, developed by the Omaha Planning Department, is more than a physical transformation. It's building strong and healthy families with partners, including churches, health care providers, financial agencies, and family support services. Our objective is to build a model for holistic neighborhood redevelopment, to empower the neighbors, and build strong and lasting partnerships.
We are replicating the plan in the Deer Park neighborhood in south Omaha, with more to follow.
Our city is a network of strong neighborhoods. Thank you to the Prospect Village Neighborhood Association for setting an example for success.
The new citizen-created “One Omaha” will also be introduced soon. This initiative, developed by volunteers and the neighborhood alliances, will support neighborhood associations and develop leaders. The goal is stronger, safer and healthier neighborhoods.
Developing disadvantaged neighborhoods is part of our 3-year strategic plan.
In order to accomplish our goals as an administration, we began to create that plan less than a year ago.
In December, we published our first report card on my website. A few highlights of our work include:
Graduation of a diverse 2014 police recruit class, the first step to meet our goal of 840 sworn officers next year.
Successful contract negotiations with all civilian unions resulting in unprecedented pension reform
A year-over-year reduction in homicides and a high clearance rate in homicide investigations
Increased street resurfacing and repairs
A large residential and business park annexation package
We adopted aggressive plans to address building code issues and safety through ordinance changes, more inspectors, and additional property demolitions
The Omaha Fire Department responded to an international medical crisis; developing the plan to safely transport Ebola patients to Nebraska Medicine’s bio-containment unit. The Omaha Fire Department plan is now being shared with agencies around the country.
We will continue to report to you on our strategic plan progress.
Omaha is a city of challenges.
While our city is teeming with progress and high spirit, there are heavy weights that limit us. Our greatest potential as a city will not be achieved until these burdens are lighter. Foremost among them is violent crime; much of it initiated by gangs with little regard for the law or human life. Violence rips through the families, friends, and neighbors of the victims. Our entire community feels the sting from those who see violence and death as a solution, or badge of courage.
I would like to welcome Clarice Jackson today. Someone shot and killed her daughter, Latecia Fox on January 24th at 34th and Parker. There were witnesses to the senseless violence that night – many of them. I repeat our plea for people who know what happened to come forward anonymously.
Some would call that being a snitch. I call it saving lives.
Do it for grieving friends and families. Do it for Clarice. She is a loving and caring mother.
She is a leader in the community. She started the non-profit Voice Advocacy Center, to help children, like Latecia, who are challenged with Dyslexia.
Several weeks before the shooting, I asked Clarice to serve on the Human Rights and Relations Board. This board has been inactive for many years. Next month, I will ask the City Council to approve a slate of new members.
Clarice, thank you for your service to children and to our city, and once again I offer my sincere sympathy to you and your family.
Our police department is committed to preventing and solving crime.
Violent crime in our city is trending down. Today, I am able to report the end-of-year crime report shows 32 homicides, 32 too many of course, but it is 25 percent lower compared to last year.
Other categories are also down. Progress doesn't come fast enough. We are always evaluating policing strategies to improve public safety.
This summer, we will begin training another recruit class, the second in two years.
We have expanded Shotspotter technology, increased Crime Stoppers rewards, expanded the gang unit, and we will soon hire a new north Omaha gang specialist.
Next month, Chief Schmaderer will introduce a significant reorganization of our detective bureau to address property crime investigations. This will result in a higher clearance rate for crimes including burglary, fraud and vehicle theft.
All this demonstrates our commitment to public safety.
Now, we need the Nebraska Legislature’s support to provide the tools police and prosecutors need to continue these positive trends.
We support the bill to change the good time law, to require incentives for inmates to successfully complete programs that will prepare them for release. We also support supervised release of prisoners. The Council of State Governments analysis is clear - Nebraska’s felony sentencing system fails to ensure people sentenced to prison receive post-release supervision. We are asking the legislature to act on these bills.
This week, we announced the 2015 Mayor's Neighborhood Grants program. We will give priority this year to crime prevention and public safety projects. Crime prevention starts in the neighborhoods where we live, working in partnership with the Omaha police department, we can make our city safer.
Our other challenges include employee pension and healthcare costs.
First, allow me to acknowledge and thank the leadership of our civilian unions – and the employees – for agreeing to unprecedented changes that will make their pension system solvent while further protecting taxpayers.
Our negotiations with the police and fire unions are ongoing, as is my resolve to bring further significant change on behalf of the taxpayers. Progress on our pension and healthcare issues will also help address another of our challenges – reinstatement of our excellent Triple-A bond rating. Achieving this goal is important to the image of our city and to lower borrowing costs. It would be a reflection of our hard work in bringing overall financial stability to city government.
We are challenged each year to provide the city services the public expects while keeping taxes and fees as low as possible, and to reduce them when we can. For as long as I serve as Mayor, that goal and commitment will remain.
Finally, Omaha is a city with a very bright future. Serving as mayor gives one a unique perspective on the creativity, progress, challenges and dreams of citizens who want to make a positive difference for themselves and their families. This perspective of life in every corner and neighborhood of our city always inspires and encourages me. I know you see it too.
I’m more optimistic than ever about the future of Omaha.
I believe the coming year will reveal new, exciting progress created by the will and spirit of the great community we call home.
Omaha is city of identity, financial stability, economic growth, generosity, accomplishment and challenges that we can face and solve together.
Omaha is a great city, and together we can make it extraordinary.