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MAYOR STOTHERT'S BUDGET SPEECH TO OMAHA CITY COUNCIL

July 18, 2017

President Gray, City Council members, and citizens of Omaha. 

It is an honor to be with you today to present our recommended 2018 city of Omaha budget, and our six-year Capital Improvement Program.

Our 2018 budget was prepared over the last 10 months with several key objectives as our guide.  These objectives include:

  • Providing the valuable, core city services for our citizens in the most efficient and effective ways possible.
  • Increasing funding and emphasis on city responsibilities that directly respond to citizen concerns,
  • Continuing to improve the fiscal discipline and professional budget management that citizens have come to expect from our administration,
  • And maintaining our lower property tax rate that sufficiently funds our priorities, while recognizing the burden property taxes have on Omaha taxpayers.

Our recommended budget meets these objectives.

I am proud of the work and creativity of city management and all city employees in developing recommendations and responding to the financial guidelines I provided along the way.

I would also like to thank the City Council for your input and suggestions during the budget process. 

While those of us in public office should make every effort to engage the public and listen to their concerns, nothing pushes that issue more than a local election. 

For me, the best part of that process is the hours and hours spent visiting with citizens. 

I always learn so much from conversations with Omaha families about what most impacts their quality of life.

Our recommended budget responds to these taxpayer concerns, yet strikes a balance between worthy spending ideas and the limited taxes citizens can afford.

So, to the citizens of Omaha, thank you for your ideas and excitement about the future of our great city.

Here are some of the highlights of our recommended budget:

We propose to hire 20 additional police officers bringing the total number of sworn officers to 880.

That will result in 76 more officers since 2014.

We expect to expand that number to 900 in 2019 to prepare for the fifth police precinct headquarters based in Elkhorn and the continued growth of our city.

Furthering our commitment to public safety, we propose to fund an additional fire department medic unit and the six new positions required to support it.

For street resurfacing, we budgeted one million dollars in additional funding next year to bring our street resurfacing budget to an all-time high of nearly twelve million dollars.

This request is in addition to the five million dollars of new, one-time funds for street resurfacing we generated from city operations this year.

These additional funds became available following our successful labor contract negotiations with the Omaha Police Officers Association and the payment of retroactive employee salaries.

With these additional funds, we will complete 59 street resurfacing projects this year.

Our commitment to street repair is clear: since 2016, we have increased spending on street resurfacing and repair by eight million dollars.

We will also increase staffing in the Public Works Department and buy new equipment to improve services year-round, including pothole repair and snow removal.

We propose to further strengthen our cash reserve funds with additional funding over 2017 levels, bringing our combined saving account balances to historic highs.

Our commitment to other programs and operations that impact the public every day will also be enhanced. 

This includes fully funding city library operations, additional support for the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau, more funding for the demolition of condemned properties, and more resources for the care and protection of our city parks.

This budget also provides funding to our community partners that provide valuable programs that support our strategic priorities; public safety, youth services, re-entry, neighborhood support and job training. 

We will increase funding to two highly successful employment programs, Step-Up Summer Jobs and Heartland Workforce Solutions.

We will double funding to Step-Up to $1 million to expand this youth employment program. 

Heartland Workforce Solutions will receive one-half million dollars.

In all, more than 25 organizations will receive community service funds to provide important services to our community.

On the revenue side for 2018, because of our strong and growing local economy, we anticipate that sales taxes revenues will increase by 2.3%.

We estimate that receipts from the restaurant tax will be 6.6% higher next year, much of this revenue coming from our growing tourism and event business.

Property tax revenues will increase slightly by 3.3%. 

These are the revenues I believe are necessary to increase public safety, provide more street resurfacing than ever before, and all the other city services and programs.

Over the last four years, I have reduced the property tax rate twice.  This budget does not reduce property taxes or the restaurant tax.

This year, we chose to increase the services demanded by taxpayers and we can do all these things with existing revenue.

The proposed overall general fund budget will increase 4.5% percent for 2018. This is a very responsible and efficient budget.

I would like to mention a topic of particular interest this year.

In January, the Douglas County Assessor provided very preliminary estimates for property valuations for the coming year.  She provided this information earlier than ever before on the Assessor’s website.

Unfortunately, those preliminary valuation totals resulted in large increases; some were up significantly, and that’s after last year’s state tax board ruling that increased home values for so many people.

Because of the public response and pressure from so many elected officials, including myself,  the Assessor recalculated, and in many cases reduced those initial valuations.

The overall increase for all Omaha properties was cut roughly in half, or an average increase of 2.5% citywide, and that’s good news.

These citizen led changes provided budget clarification early in the process and resulted in a more productive budget process for the city.

We will not receive a tax windfall. The actual financial result of the valuation adjustments is a 2.5%  in property tax revenue to the City of Omaha,  or

$2.2 million dollars to the general fund.

This is the fifth budget I have prepared as mayor and during this time we have significantly improved the financial standing of our city.  I believe that with those years behind us it is helpful to summarize what has been accomplished, and what will be added to this record, with the adoption of our recommended 2018 budget.

First, I am proud to have had City Council support during my first term as mayor for two property tax rate decreases.  The rate is lower today than at any time since 2010.

We will have added 76 new police officers, helping to make Omaha safer and establishing what I believe is one of the best large city police departments in the country.  Our men and women in blue have made Omaha a safer city.

We have added over 27,000 citizens to Omaha through annexation and managed the expansion of their city services.  Nearly all of these residents are now paying lower property taxes.

We have expanded human service and job training programs that prove they work and make a difference for those in our community who rely on them.

We will have nearly doubled the street resurfacing budget in these few short years, and brought our savings accounts to their highest levels in city history.

Thousands of new private sector jobs have been created in Omaha during this time.

We have successfully renegotiated all city employee labor contracts, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars, increased transparency of the public’s business, and modernized and improved customer service for the taxpayers we serve. We can all be proud of this work. 

Our progress should give us confidence that ongoing improvements are not only possible, they are expected.

We mentioned that we are also presenting for council consideration our six-year Capital Improvement Program for the years 2018 through 2023.

While our General Fund pays for daily operations, most of which goes for employee salaries and benefits, the Capital Improvement Program or C.I.P., covers capital expenditures over the next six years.  At the end of each year, we add another year and budget accordingly.

The C.I.P. directs funding for the transportation, public safety, public facilities, parks, and environmental investments that are long-term in nature.

The funds that support the C.I.P. come from various sources including bond funds approved by voters in prior elections.

The C.I.P. is the driver for major projects and expenditures for the long-term. Some highlights of our proposed C.I.P.  include:

  • $350 million in total transportation projects; $61 million in 2018 alone.
  • This includes $1.8 million in 2018 for substandard street repair and a total of $5.3 million over the six-year period.
  • The C.I.P includes costs associated with the new fifth police precinct in Elkhorn and construction of two new fire stations to replace aging buildings.
  • Two new Omaha public libraries, one downtown, another in the southwest part of Omaha.
  • We are supporting the public infrastructure at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s state of the art medical education and training facility called I-Excel.
  • Funding for the financial commitments we have made for the human services campus that provides housing and support services for our homeless population.
  • And of course, the C.I.P. outlines our expenses for our very expensive and long-term, federally mandated sewer separation project.

The draft C.I.P. is now posted on the City of Omaha Planning Department website and I encourage citizens to review it.  This year, we redesigned this important planning document to make it easy to read and use. 

Our recommended 2018 budget is also available on the finance page of the City of Omaha website.

The 2018 budget public hearing will be held in this chamber on August 8th at 7:00 p.m. and I encourage you to attend and provide your input.

We look forward to councilmember questions and action on our recommended budget and the Capital Improvement Program. Your input has already made these recommendations better.

Finally, thank you again to the citizens of Omaha. 

I fully recognize and appreciate the importance of spending your money effectively with the goal of serving you, and doing so with full transparency and the best possible outcomes.

Purpose: 

To allow for an opportunity for currently serving and veterans of military service and their families to provide input to the Mayor and City leadership and officials about issues impacting them and to encourage consideration of them in public decision making. 

 

Policy: 

It is the policy of the City of Omaha to seek stakeholder input as to policies and services that support currently serving military and veterans and their families. To that end, this Military Service Advisory Committee is commissioned by the Mayor to solicit and provide community input and recommendations to the Mayor and City leadership as to matters impacting military service. 

 

Selection and Term of Commission Members: 

The Committee will consist of members appointed by the Mayor. The Committee may make recommendations to the Mayor as to additional members to the Committee who represent broad segments of the community with expertise and/or interest in military veterans. The Committee shall elect a chair, vice chair, and secretary. The Committee shall meet at least quarterly and shall maintain minutes of its meetings to be posted on the City website. The Committee shall establish such bylaws, rules, procedures, terms, offices, and reporting as are necessary for the Committee to serve the function identified. 

 

Members: 

Bill Williams

Yvonne Williams

Ben Wormington

Stacy Jo Dufault

Tyson Compton

Dwight Lydic

Sharon Robino-West

George Merithew

Steve Novotny

Josephine Reed

 

Oversight: 

The Mayor's Office will have responsibility for oversight and support of this Committee. 

Purpose:

To allow for an opportunity for the group commonly referred to as young professionals or millennials (born from 1981 to 2000) to provide input to the Mayor and City leadership and officials about issues impacting the next generation of Omaha's citizens, leaders, and families and to encourage consideration of their viewpoint in public decision making. 

 

Policy:

It is the policy of the City of Omaha to seek stakeholder input as to policies, services, and issues that impact and are important to the millennial generation who will be the future of our City. To that end, this Millennial Advisory Committee is commissioned by the Mayor to provide community input and recommendations to the Mayor and City leadership as to matters impacting young professionals, young families, and/or millennials.

 

Selection and Term of Commission Members:

The Committee will consist of members appointed by the Mayor. The Committee may make recommendations to the Mayor as to additional members to the Committee who represent broad segments of the community representing young professionals, young families, and/or millennials. The Committee shall elect a chair, vice chair, and secretary. The Committee shall meet at least quarterly and shall maintain minutes of its meetings to be posted on the City website. The Committee shall establish such bylaws, rules, procedures, terms, offices, and reporting as are necessary for the Committee to serve the function identified.

 

Members:

Luke Hoffman

Alyssa Anglin

Noah McClain

Sabastian Hunt

Mikaela Borecky

Mickey Manley

Eric Velander

Eric Gustafson

Sarah Wellman

Matt Ewin

Andrew Prystai

Scott Brown

Lindsey Spehn

 

Oversight: 

The Mayor's Office will have responsibility for oversight and support of this committee.

Members and Terms:

Manuel Alferes Flores (8/11/2017 - 8/10/2020)

Martha Barrera (8/11/2017 - 8/10/2020)

Reyes Barrera (8/11/2017 - 8/10/2020)

Jeremy Holtberg (8/11/2017 - 8/10/2020)

Marcos Mora (8/11/2017 - 8/10/2020)