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Beginning this morning, (Wednesday January 14, 2015) the Omaha Fire Department will transport critical trauma patients only to Nebraska Medicine for emergency care. Following a decision by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Nebraska Medicine is now the only Level One Trauma Center in the state of Nebraska. The Omaha Fire Department joins dozens of other agencies in this decision.

The State notified CHI Health this week that Creighton University Medical Center did not meet several required standards to be designated as a Level One Trauma Center. In a letter to CHI Creighton, Nebraska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joseph Acierno wrote, “Based on your failure to meet these standards, your application is denied.”

“Our decision is based solely on the state’s actions and will have no effect on public safety,” said Fire Chief Bernie Kanger. “We are providing the best level of outcome for our patients.”

The Level One designation is the highest a hospital can receive. Omaha’s Children’s Hospital is a Level Two Trauma Center. Omaha Fire EMS Chief Lloyd Rupp said, “The trauma designation assures us as providers that certain standards are met and maintained. Without the designation, we have no idea of the services a hospital is able to provide to patients.”

Kanger says the decision by the Midwest Protocol Committee, which includes Omaha Fire, suburban fire departments and private ambulance services in Douglas, Sarpy, Washington and Pottawattamie Counties, applies only to critical trauma cases. Medical patients and less severe trauma candidates will still be able to choose a hospital, including CHI/Creighton for their care.

Chief Kanger says the Omaha Fire Department responds to an average of 120 trauma calls each month, providing critical pre-hospital care in the field and transporting patients to the hospital.

“If CHI Creighton’s status changes, we will re-evaluate,” said Chief Kanger. “Patient care must be our priority.”

Following a boarding house fire last month, the Omaha Fire and Planning Departments are considering a city ordinance to identify and inspect similar properties. Two residents of the boarding house at 22nd & M died in the fire on December 23rd.

The ordinance could include property registration, annual inspections, and educational programs for property owners and tenants. It would apply to boarding houses, transient living facilities, Bed and Breakfasts and sorority and fraternity houses.

“This has moved to a priority level,” said Assistant Planning Director Jay Davis. Davis oversees the Permits and Inspections Division. “These properties are like wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Without a registration process, Davis says it may never be possible to estimate the number of similar properties in Omaha.

Mayor Jean Stothert said the ordinance would be part of a continuing reorganization and evaluation of the Planning Department and there will be further review before an ordinance is proposed. “We want to be sure it is the right ordinance. A law is not effective if we can’t enforce it,” said Mayor Stothert.

Inspectors had written numerous code violations at the boarding house at 22nd & “M”, but none serious enough to shut it down, according to Davis. He said the owner was slowly making corrections.

Fire inspectors however, had never been to the house because no complaints have ever been filed with the fire department. The department will issue a policy as early as this week, creating a process for OFD personnel to notify fire inspectors if they are called to a property that could be a boarding house.

“Our first concern on an EMS call is the safety of our patient, but we make 45,000 runs a year and we have an opportunity to report these structures. We’re looking for them now,” said Fire Chief Bernie Kanger. “Fire and City inspectors work collaboratively. Both our agencies have a vested interest in public safety.” The fire department is studying ways for tenants and neighbors to anonymously report boarding houses that could be unsafe.

The Omaha Fire Department is still investigating the December 23rd fire and has not yet determined the cause.

The fire and the ordinance under consideration are not related to another ordinance currently before the Omaha City Council.

That ordinance revises code enforcement procedures, developed over the last 18 months and as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Association in 2013. It includes a timetable for inspections and compliance, an appeals process and a new Property Maintenance Appeals Board. The members will be appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council. “This is good public policy, it clarifies the job of the inspector so we are enforcing the code uniformly,” said Mayor Stothert.

The Council will hold a public hearing on Tuesday January 13th; a vote in scheduled for January 27th.

The third and final civilian union has approved a contract offer from the City which solves the underfunded pension liability and achieves unprecedented pension reform.

The vote by CMPTEC members makes it a “clean sweep”, with all civilian bargaining units agreeing to a cash balance pension plan for new employees hired afterJanuary 1. “For the first time, city employees are moving away from the standard defined benefit pension plan,” said Mayor Jean Stothert.

Pension reform was the number one priority during negotiations with all three civilian bargaining groups, CMPTEC, Local 251 and the Functional Employees Group. A fourth group, AEC, (civilian managers and professionals) which is not represented by a bargaining unit, will also receive the same benefits.

The five-year agreement allows current employees to remain in the existing pensionplan with reduced pension benefits and an extension of the number of years required toachieve normal retirement. The City also agreed to increase its contributions to thepension fund by 7% over the five-year agreement.The agreement also includes a 9% increase over the five-year period, including a 1% one-time lump sum supplement for 2013.

“I am grateful to the membership, the union negotiators and our negotiating team led by Mark McQueen and Steve Kerrigan for agreements that are good for our employees and the taxpayers,” said Mayor Jean Stothert.

The Personnel Board has already approved the Local 251 agreement; a special board meeting will be held in January to approve the remaining agreements. The City Council must also approve the contracts.

The agreements will be in effect through 2017.

Another civilian union has reached a tentative agreement with the City, nearly identical to the agreement ratified last month by Local 251, the City’s largest civilian union.

The Functional Employees Group and the Teamsters Local 554 represents administrative and clerical employees and has scheduled a vote on the tentative agreement early next week.

The five-year agreement includes a cash balance pension plan. New employees hired on or after January 1, 2015 will participate in this plan. Current employees will remain on the existing defined benefit pension plan with reduced pension benefits and an increase in the number of years required to achieve normal retirement. The City also agreed to increase its contributions to the pension fund by 7% over the five-year agreement.

The agreement also includes a 9% hourly wage increase over the five-year period, including a 1% one-time lump sum supplement for 2013, and a one-time lump sum supplement for ’13 and ’14 due to overpayment into the pension system in those years by the members.

“This agreement is another important step toward solving the unfunded pension liability and I thank the membership for their support,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “The Functional Employees Group and the Teamsters Union Local 554 understand the importance of working together.”

“It’s been a long time coming. I am pleased with the agreement that was reached between the Functional Employees Group, the Teamsters Union Local 554 and the City of Omaha. This is the first step to ensure that there will be a pension system for civilian employees, and is along the lines of what other cities across the nation are doing to secure their pension systems. This is a fair agreement for the employees and the City,” said Val Johnson, President of the Functional Employees Group.

In addition, Mayor Stothert will extend the same wage and pension terms to the AEC group, the civilian managers and professionals who are not represented by a collective bargaining agent.

CMPTEC, which represents approximately 375 civilian employees, is now the sole civilian union holdout to the Mayor’s proposed pension reform. The CMPTEC union rejected the City’s offer last month, but is scheduling another vote on the City’s offer sometime in the next few weeks. Litigation will follow in the Court of Industrial Relations if the CMPTEC Union refuses the same terms that have already been approved by the other civilian bargaining units.

The Omaha Land Bank met for the first time Monday to elect officers, discuss operating procedures and set a meeting schedule.

Mayor Jean Stothert appointed the board in September. She welcomed the members to the initial meeting, reinforcing the goals of the Land Bank. "We have an important opportunity and responsibility to make an impact in our city," said Mayor Stothert. "There are thousands of vacant properties in Omaha; many are dangerous, they attract crime and pose fire hazards. The families who live next door and across the street have an expectation that we will make their neighborhoods safe again. It's important we ask for input and listen to community feedback."

The board elected Tom McLeay as Chairman. McLeay is President of Clarity Development Company, a partner at Smith, Gardner & Slusky Law Firm, and a member of the Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Association.

Jamie Berglund will serve as Vice-Chair. Berglund is a member of the Omaha Housing Authority Board of Directors. She is employed by the Great Omaha Chamber as Senior Director of Community Development.

The Board elected Spencer Danner as Treasurer. Danner is a Community Reinvestment Officer with Mutual of Omaha Bank. He serves on the Omaha 100 Board of Directors.

There are seven voting members of the board; McLeay, Berglund, Danner, Ken Johnson, Randy Lenhoff, Scott Semrad and Cathy Lang.

Johnson is President and Managing Member of K.E. Johnson Consulting, LLC. He serves on the Board of Directors for 75 North Redevelopment Corporation and the Omaha Small Business Network, Inc. Johnson is a retired City of Omaha employee. He worked for 20 years as the Economic Development Manager.

Lenhoff is the Chief Executive Officer of Seldin Company and Chairman and CEO of World Group LLC. He has been a licensed real estate broker in Nebraska since 1980.

Semrad is the co-founder and Manager of Urban Village Development Inc. The company has renovated and managed more than 20 apartment buildings since it was founded in 2008.

Lang is a member of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce. She is the Chief Operating Officer and Vice-President of Accelerate Nebraska. Previously, Lang was Director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and Commissioner of Labor.

Mayor Stothert also named five non-voting members:Mike Riedmann, President NP Dodge Real Estate Sales Inc., Julie Stavneak, J. Development Company,Julia Plucker, Attorney, Heartland Strategy Group,John Heine, Commercial Real Estate Broker, Investors Realtyand Diane Battiato, Douglas County Register of Deeds.

The Board also authorized the City law department to draft suggested bylaws, policies and procedures which will be reviewed by the Board.

The Omaha Land Bank is the first in the state of Nebraska, authorized by state law and created by city ordinance earlier this year. Mayor Stothert told the board, "Our actions will be watched, we must set an example through our work."

City Council President Pete Festersen and Vice-President Ben Gray both thanked the board members for participating. Gray said, "Its important you see how key your job is". Festersen told the board, "A very important part of what you do is to engage neighborhoods".

The board will meet again January 14th at 9:00 am at City Hall, 1819 Farnam.

Mayor Jean Stothert has appointed seven volunteer members to the new Active Living Advisory Committee. The Mayor established the committee by Executive Order. “The members of this committee have diverse professional backgrounds and personal interests. The committee will provide an opportunity for community input and make recommendations to the City as we work together to create safe, accessible transportation and recreation options,” said Mayor Jean Stothert.

The committee will be chaired by Julie Harris, Live Well Omaha Program Manager. The committee members are:

  • Ben Turner, Omaha resident, Omaha B-cycle Program Director

Under Ben’s leadership, B-cycle has expanded to a two-state bike-sharing program. He isSecretary of Omaha Bikes and Board President of the Bicycle Union Mentoring Project.

  • Andy Wessel, Omaha resident, Douglas County Health Department

Andy is a Community Health Planner and has been involved in the Healthy Community Design Partnership, Douglas County Putting Prevention to Work, the Community Health Improvement Plan and the Walking Action Core Team. He represents Douglas County Health on the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

  • Mark Stursma, Omaha resident, Planning Director-City of Papillion

Mark is a city planner, with previous career experience in trail and pedestrian design. He is a member of the I-80 Council, the Transportation Technical Advisory Committee and a cycling club member.

  • Christopher Rolling, Omaha resident, Civil Engineer, Olsson Associates

Christopher is a bicycle commuter. His professional work includes sharrow design, traffic engineering studies, pedestrian routes and public transportation infrastructure.

  • Tom Everson, Omaha resident, Founder- Keep Kids Alive Drive 25

Tom founded the traffic safety non-profit and is a trained facilitator for national and regional traffic safety conferences.

  • Michelle Bandur, Omaha resident, Chair-Television/New Media Program Iowa Western Community College

Michelle is a broadcast and print journalist. She is a triathlete, runner and ironman competitor.

A representative from the Mayor’s office, and the Omaha Planning, Public Works, and Parks Departments will also serve on the committee. The committee is expected to meet for the first time in January.

A one-of-a-kind library will open next year at 72nd and Dodge. Heritage Services has announced plans to develop the first digital library in Omaha.

“Something very different is about to happen at 72nd and Dodge,” said Walter Scott, Heritage Services co-founder and chairman. “People want access to useful technology and as a community, we should provide access to these resources. The digital library, a library of the 21st century, will help position the Omaha community as a leader in access to, and understanding of, the digital world in which we all live.”

The library will open in the fall of 2015 in the former Borders Bookstore on the southwest corner of the intersection. It will be operated by Community Information Trust, a non-profit organization formed by Heritage Services. Heritage Services has invested in numerous projects supporting arts, education and sports in Omaha. “Heritage Services is a tremendous asset to our City,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “We are grateful for the investments in our community. The digital library is another example of Omaha being a leader in technology, philanthropy and community service.”

“All Omahans will benefit from increased access to all the good things technology can provide, the opportunity to learn, explore and create,” said Heritage Services board member Michael McCarthy.

The library will feature individual computer stations with access to databases from libraries around the world, children’s areas for interactive story times, innovation labs, and production areas featuring 3-D printers. Metropolitan Community College will be a partner providing classes and programs.

The library will be funded with private donations, most of the services will be free.

The City of Omaha will take two immediate steps following the surprising and disappointing ruling inOmaha Police Union Local 101, IUPA, AFL-CIO, aka Omaha Police Officers Association vs. City of Omaha.

The Union filed suit in June 2014, alleging the City did not provide written notice to open contract negotiations and therefore, the current labor agreement, which expired in 2013,had automatically rolled over to the end of 2014. In a ruling issued Wednesday, November 26th, Douglas County District Court Judge Joseph Troia ruled "the agreement rolled over into 2014".

The City will appeal the Court's decision regarding the 2014rollover and has invited the Union tobegin negotiations for 2015. "An appeal is necessary to protect the City's right to achieveadditionalpension reform in 2014," said Mayor Jean Stothert. "From the outset, we informed the OPOA that pension reform was one of our top priorities.Addressing the unfunded pension liability cannot wait. The OPOA must work with us, not look for gotcha tactics to delay negotiations."

During the two-day trial in October, testimony showedthatOPOA President John Wellsoffered to extend the current contract for one yearin February 2014 andthen exchanged counter-proposals with the City in April and May before the Union abruptly announced that the contract had rolled forward because neither side had given written notice of intent to negotiate in 2014.

By that time, the City had already offered toextendthe current agreement for one year providedseveral conditions were met,including significant pension reform. The City believes the Union waived the requirement for written notice by participating in these negotiations. The Union characterized the negotiations as a "courtesy" and "listening to commentary" from the City.

"The Union did not demand written notice of our desire to open negotiationsuntil we made a pension proposal they did not like and did not want to negotiate," said Mayor Stothert. "Our sole interest is returning to the bargaining table to negotiate a contract that is good for our employees and good for the taxpayers."

The attachedNovember 30, 2014letter to UnionAttorney Michael Dowdrequeststhatthe Union announce its available dates for 2015 negotiations.

Governor Dave Heineman and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert highlighted the positive outcomes of the “Build Nebraska Act” for the citizens of Omaha, and the state at a news conference Wednesday in Omaha. The Governor and Mayor were joined by Nebraska Department of Roads Director Randy Peters and Omaha City Engineer Todd Pfitzer to provide an update on progress of the Build Nebraska Act projects in Omaha.

In 2011, Governor Heineman signed LB 84, titled the Build Nebraska Act, into law. As a result, beginning July 1, 2013, funding could be shared from existing sales tax at a rate of one-quarter of one percent is shared with the State Department of Roads (85%) and the cities and counties (15%).

“The Build Nebraska Act is having a positive impact throughout the state and benefits our citizens and travelers in Nebraska,” said Gov. Heineman. “Prior to the Build Nebraska Act, the focus of our roads program had been on asset preservation of our current roads and bridges. That left hardly any funds for much-needed capital improvement projects. This year, there have been new highway improvement projects underway during the 2014 construction season and that is good news.”

“The Governor’s commitment to public safety is apparent with the improvements made on the interstates around Omaha and the state highways through the city. We are grateful for the state funding that has made major projects possible, especially the resurfacing of Dodge Street from downtown to Westroads,” said Mayor Stothert. "Our city is growing, traffic volume is increasing and the new construction makes the daily commute safer for everyone who lives here and passes through our city on the interstate."

Three projects in Omaha, I-80 Eastbound between 126th and 96th Street, I-80 Westbound between I-480 and 60th Street, and I-680 Northbound between Center and Pacific Streets are either already open to traffic or will be shortly.

Department of Roads Director Randy Peters said, “We are so gratified at the Department of Roads to be able to have under construction, several highway projects we have needed on our system for a long time.  We are equally pleased these three projects in Omaha could be delivered already this year.”

“As always, the focus remains on improving safety, delivering projects and taking care of the State’s transportation assets.  This we continue to do while taking care of the natural environment, bringing mobility to the traveler, implementing good fiscal management and working together with Nebraska highway users.  Nebraska is on the move, and we want this momentum to continue,” Director Peters added.

Projects included in the Build Nebraska efforts are statewide. Additional projects are underway or planned for several areas including Lincoln, Kearney, Fremont, Nebraska City, Murray, as well as a portion of the Heartland Expressway in the Alliance area.

The Build Nebraska efforts include 17 capital improvement projects over a 10-year period, divided into three tiers. Projects are planned for Fiscal Years 2014-2015, FY 2016-2019 and FY 2020-2023, and are expected to total more than $790 million when completed. Tier 1 is expected to total approximately $155 million. The Omaha projects discussed today are included in Tier 1 and represent approximately $30 million of that funding. Tier 2 projects are an expected total of approximately $305 million, with Tier 3 at approximately $331 million.

A complete list of projects is available on the Nebraska Department of Roads website at: www.transportation.nebraska.gov/lb-84

Members of the Omaha Civilian Union, Local 251, have approved a tentative agreement that includes unprecedented pension reform and a solution for the pension system’s current unfunded liability.

“Pension reform was our number one goal in these negotiations,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “We all realize the unfunded pension liability affects the financial stability of our city and it must be addressed. I am grateful to Local 251, which is the first civilian union to step up and support significant pension changes.”

The 5-year contract (2013-2017) includes the city’s first cash balance pension plan. New employees hired on or after January 1, 2015 will participate in this plan. Current employees will remain on the existing defined benefit pension plan but with substantially reduced pension benefits and an extension of the number of years required to achieve normal retirement. The City has also agreed to increase its contributions to the pension fund by 7% over the 5-year agreement.

The pension changes create a fix for the civilian pension fund, which would be bankrupt in approximately 20 years without this solution. With this reform, the fund is expected to be fully-funded in less than 25 years. The fund is currently approximately $205 million underfunded.

“The cash balance plan is the key to solving our pension liabilities,” said Mayor Stothert. “It better protects the City against market volatility, provides a fair pension that our employees can depend on and offers greater protection against future unfunded pension liability than the current plan.”

The contract also includes a 9% wage increase over the 5-year term of the contract, including a one-time lump sum supplement for 2013 to offset a wage freeze. The 1% supplement is based on the employee’s non-overtime earnings in 2013.

As Local 251 is on the City’s preferred health insurance plan, the contract maintains the current health care plan design but allows either side to reopen health care negotiations only in 2015 for changes to take effect in 2016.

Local 251 is the largest civilian union, representing approximately 634 employees. The City is also negotiating with CMPTEC, which represents 375 employees. CMPTEC previously rejected the City’s most recent offer and made a counter, which the City calls “unacceptable”.

“We expect to present CMPTEC with the same offer that Local 251 has already ratified, and we are hopeful the CMPTEC members will cooperate with this much needed pension reform,” said Mayor Stothert.

The Local 251 tentative agreement must now be approved by the Personnel Board and the Omaha City Council.