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Public Safety Improvements and Financial Success Highlight Mayor Stothert's Second Year in Office
This week, we begin the third year of my administration. It’s a good time to review our accomplishments and look ahead.
Public safety is and will remain my first and most important priority. In the last two years, we have increased the number of sworn police officers on the street. Next month, another recruit class will begin training to reach 840 officers or even higher by the end of 2016.
The number of officers is only part of our plan to reduce crime in Omaha. Police Chief Todd Schmaderer has assigned more officers to the Gang Unit and hired a second Gang Specialist. He has reorganized the detective bureau, so investigators are now specifically assigned to investigate property crimes including vehicle theft, burglary, and vandalism. The benefit to you is a better response and an increase in the number cases we solve.
In 2014, Omaha Police investigated 33 homicides, a nearly 25% reduction from the year before. This year, through today, we have recorded 23 homicides. Suspects have been arrested in 11 of those cases. We are working with our federal partners to reduce violent crime and get illegal guns off the street. The ShotSpotter technology has been expanded and we completed the test of body cameras for officers. We expect to make the first purchase of cameras this year.
As our City grows, we will need to add a fifth police precinct. We are working on that now. And, we are finally building a permanent home for our Southwest Precinct, which has been working in leased space. The precinct will be part of the Lumberyard development in Millard and construction should be complete by next fall.
Last month, I awarded grants to 18 neighborhood associations for public safety improvements. These grants will pay for equipment for citizen patrols, neighborhood watch groups, enhanced lighting, and other initiatives developed by neighbors. Working together, we are making a difference.
I am especially pleased with the way we are managing your tax dollars. For the second consecutive year, we have reported a budget surplus in our end-of-year financial report.
Just this week, we reported a 2014 surplus of $13.8 million. This is the result of careful expense management and increased revenue. We will put some of this money into savings and the remaining $9 million will be moved into the 2016 General Fund budget, which is required by the City Charter.
I proposed and the Omaha City Council passed the first property tax rate cut in 14 years. It was a modest 2% tax cut, but it demonstrates that we can run government more efficiently and still provide a high level of service. That cut became effective in January of this year.
Last fall, we annexed 17 residential and commercial areas, increasing the population and tax base of our city.
We have made tremendous progress with our employee unions. We now have labor contracts with every City union, except police. The negotiations with the Omaha Police Officers Association are underway.
We negotiated the first cash balance pension plan for our civilian employees, moving away from the traditional defined benefit plan. The firefighters negotiated a unique health care plan that they will administer, with no increased cost to the City.
Our achievements in the area of pension liability, unsettled labor contracts and health care costs will be significant when our bond ratings are reviewed later this year. We have a good story to tell.
We are currently working with all City departments and the City Council on the 2016 budget.
One of my strategic priorities is to maximize development in disadvantaged areas and expand job and business growth.
Recently, I announced a series of immediate actions to support economic inclusion, and to equip small and emerging businesses with the tools they need to be able to bid on and win city contracts. We are developing a Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion which will help us make a long-term, sustainable commitment to small business, workforce development and training. We have just completed a series of meetings with large project owners, prime contractors, subcontractors, Small and Emerging business participants, community leaders, trade and union representatives and youth organizations to guide the development of the plan.
I have committed increased funding to Heartland Workforce Solutions and start-up funds to develop a resource center to help small businesses.
There are many additional highlights of the last year that will help Omaha grow, including:
- The partnership with the Urban Land Institute to study development of the Riverfront and north downtown
- Resectoring of the City’s solid waste collection schedules to improve service
- Create and appoint members to the Active Living Advisory Committee
- Appoint the first members of the Municipal Land Bank Board of Directors
- Selected Tetrad to develop the Civic Auditorium site
- Construction begins on the Capitol District
- Increased funding for street repair and maintenance
- Initial phase of Traffic Signal Master Plan
- Resurfacing of Ames Avenue
Providing excellent customer service and accurate information is always my goal. I look forward to continued success, working with you and for you.