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The Empowerment Network invited me to participate in the 8th annual State of North Omaha Summit on Saturday December 13. This is the text of my remarks, including a big announcement about resurfacing of Ames Street. This announcement was met with cheers and applause. Keep reading to see when this work will begin!
I’m happy to be back with you to report on the 2014 State of North Omaha.
I have set four main goals for my administration. These are the goals I set when I was elected and they will be my goals throughout my terms. We have many successes to report here in north Omaha in these goal areas.
My first goal is to improve public safety. This is my most important responsibility and will always be my number one priority.
In 2014, Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and I promised to put more officers on the street.
In August, 36 recruits graduated from the police academy, bringing our police department to its sworn strength. After graduation the officers started field training, which they have now completed.
This recruit class is one of the most diverse we’ve ever had. We will continue to make diversity a priority with our next recruit classes in 2015 and 2016. Over these next two years, we plan two additional classes to bring the number of sworn officers to 840, which we think is the right number of officers to keep our city safe.
I am proud of the Omaha Police Department, the leadership of Chief Schmaderer, and the partnerships we have in north Omaha. Preventing and solving crime requires all of us to work together.
For example, anonymous donors provided funding in 2014 to increase the Crime Stoppers reward fund. A tip that leads to an arrest in a homicide is worth $25,000 now, $10,000 dollars will be paid for tips that lead to an arrest in a felony assault shooting.
Crime Stoppers is a proven incentive that helps the police department solve crimes. In an average year, Crime Stoppers pays $20,000 in rewards. This year, 133-thousand dollars has been paid so far. Again, it’s a proven incentive.
Chief Schmaderer reports a significant decrease in homicides in 2014. At the end of November, Omaha Police had investigated 30 homicides, an approximate 30% reduction over the last several years. Fourteen of those homicides occurred in the northeast precinct. OPD has a very high clearance rate in solving these crimes, 80%, which is higher than the national average. Similarly, the clearance rate for shootings is at the highest level ever. This is due to successful community partnerships.
In 2014, the Omaha Police Department also expanded the Shotspotter program, expanded the gang unit to include school hours, and provided the department’s Standard Operating Manual as a public document.
I encourage our department directors to be forward thinking – a step ahead of trends and technology.
After Ferguson and Staten Island, many cities are beginning to study the pros and cons of body cameras for police officers. Here in Omaha, we have been evaluating body cameras for more than a year. After a successful test, I have authorized Chief Schmaderer to begin purchasing body cameras in early 2015.
I believe cameras protect the rights of both the citizens and the officers, and we will continue to report on our use of cameras as we move into this area of great public interest.
My second goal is to manage the city budget.
In 2015, I have increased funding and added new money for many programs and projects to benefit north Omaha.
This week, the new Land Bank met for the first time. I set aside 150-thousand dollars for the start-up costs.
The Land Bank is a redevelopment tool that will create more affordable housing and safe neighborhoods. There are thousands of vacant properties in the city, many in northeast Omaha.
They are dangerous, they attract crime, and they pose fire hazards. The families who live next door and across the street have an expectation that we will make these neighborhoods safe again, and we will.
I appointed and the City Council approved the Land Bank board members, seven voting members and five non-voting members.
By state law, the meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is January 14th.
We must take every step possible to provide safe housing, so we will have nine housing inspectors on the job in 2015, and for the second year, one-million dollars will be set aside for demolition of unsafe buildings and homes.
I am also expanding our commitment to the Step-Up Omaha Summer Jobs program.
The City’s contribution in 2015 will increase from $300,000 to $500,000 to provide more jobs, to more young people.
Heartland Workforce Solutions will also receive in increase in city funds, from $25,000 to $40,000 thousand dollars. These programs put people to work.
The Mayor’s neighborhood grants program will also continue. These grants have paid for many projects in neighborhoods, parks and playgrounds, community gardens and even a CPR class.
For the first time, we are also providing $50,000 to the neighborhood alliances which provide support to your associations.
I know you’re interested in street repair and resurfacing, and today, you are the first to hear about our plans to begin work on Ames Avenue.
At our request, MUD has agreed to move up construction on Ames to 2015, a full year ahead of schedule. We learned just yesterday that work should be finished in June, so we will begin resurfacing next summer.
The initial work will run from 28th Street to Fontenelle Boulevard and will also include ADA ramps and a new traffic signal at the Ames-Fontenelle intersection.
The overall street repair budget will increase to $7.1 million dollars next year.
This year, we have completed approximately 33 lane miles of asphalt resurfacing, that’s about the distance from Omaha all the way to Greenwood, Nebraska. We have also spent $4 million on concrete street repair.
Goal number three is promote job and economic growth.
In March, we signed a purchase agreement to buy the Ames-Locust property, contingent on the cost of the environmental cleanup.
Unfortunately, the estimate came in far above estimates, bringing the cost of this project to $25 million for a shovel-ready site.
It’s disappointing that we had to walk away, but I cannot justify spending millions of dollars to clean-up a mess we didn’t create or expect. We even offered to at least clean up the surface, if the owner would donate the property to the city. Our offer was not accepted.
I am now working with the Greater Omaha Chamber to identify alternate locations in northeast Omaha that can be developed into shovel-ready sites for heavy industrial use.
Last month, we submitted an application for a federal “Promise Zone”.
If approved, our Promise Zone will include the Village Zone. The designation would help our city compete for grants that provide services in the Promise Zone area.
Many of you here today helped with this application. Thank you for supporting this initiative.
One of our most important projects in northeast Omaha is the Prospect Village initiative. In the first year, we have an impressive report card to share:
Nine unsafe properties have been torn down, thirteen homes are being renovated. More than two dozen properties have been purchased for new housing construction. A neighborhood association has formed, and many programs to help families have been presented including parenting classes and the Healthy Families program. The second year will bring even more positive change to the neighborhood.
Over the last year, we have taken many steps to provide opportunities for employment.
In addition to the increased funding for the Step-Up Summer Jobs program, we have completed a review of the Small and Emerging Small Business program. Three strategies have been identified as a result of that review:
A task force has been meeting for several months to identify opportunities to expand the SEB program, specifically on the two-billion dollar, federal mandated CSO sewer separation projects.
The group also plans to develop a city-wide approach with partners such as OPS, Metropolitan Community College and others planning large construction projects. We will also work with Omaha’s large contractors to expand the diversity of their workforce, and we will continue to support opportunities for youth to develop skills needed for this type of work.
We also took the important step to provide equal employment opportunities, by removing
“the box” on city job applications. Even before the Nebraska Legislature passed this bill, I asked that we take the lead and eliminate the question about criminal history on the initial application.
Last year at this time, I reported that the National League of Cities had selected Omaha as one of eleven cities to develop and share ideas to help young black males succeed.
With the Empowerment Network and other partners, we created the Omaha African-American Male Achievement Collaboration Strategy. While the technical assistance phase of has passed, we continue to work towards the long term goals in the areas of education and employment.
My fourth goal is something I call “improve the taxpayer experience”.
Excellent customer service is important every time you interact with city government.
Over the last year, we have made many improvements on the Mayor’s Hotline, increasing the number of monthly service requests to an average of 14-hundred.
We are using my website, Facebook and Twitter to provide accurate city news, and answer your questions.
For the second year, I held Town Hall meetings in every City Council district, including here in District Two. We will continue these meetings in the near future.
There is an old African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
There are many visions for our city, many visions for north Omaha. We must work together towards a “common” vision.
If you believe Omaha can be better, then you need to be willing to do something about it. The solutions are right here in this room.