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Mayor Jean Stothert | City of Omaha

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The Omaha City Council is considering a series of proposed amendments to the City of Omaha Home Rule Charter.

Mayor Jean Stothert convened the Charter Review Convention last fall, as required by the charter.  The final report and recommendations were presented to the Mayor and Omaha City Council in March. Only the City Council has the authority to place amendments on the ballot.

The amendments on Tuesday’s council agenda do not include several proposals offered by Mayor Stothert and adopted by the convention, including a proposal to change the election of Mayor and Omaha City Council members to coincide with state elections in non-presidential years.  “City elections are expensive. We could save a lot of taxpayer money by changing the election schedule,” said Mayor Stothert. “Since Charter Review Conventions are required to be held only once every ten years, this amendment would allow us to be ready in the event of possible action at the state level to sync the election schedules.”

The Douglas County Election Commissioner billed the city $173,868.47 for the 2013 primary election and $127,870.84 for the general election.  Those costs were significantly lower than usual because Omaha Public Schools and Millard Public Schools also had elections on the ballots and shared the cost.

“I am disappointed the Council will not consider other important recommendations made by the Charter Review Convention and in the process the council’s Law Committee used to decide which issues to forward,” said Mayor Stothert. “The Convention members represent the taxpayers. Their opinions and support for these changes should have been considered.”

The committee chose only those recommendations that had 20 or more votes. For example, the recommendation to change city election dates was approved by the Convention members by a 17-3 vote, five members were absent. The Convention had 25 members, appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council.

Other recommendations that will not be considered:

  • A member of the City Council would lose their seat if they move out of their Council District unless  it is a result of re-districting. (Passed by Convention 19-5, 1 member absent)
  • Clarify the City of Omaha Home Rule Charter is a limitation of power Charter. (Passed  by Convention 13-8-1, 3 members absent)
  • Change the name of the name of the Taxpayer Complaint Office to Mayor’s Hotline (passed by Convention 19-2, 4 members absent) 

The ordinances scheduled for are available on the August 12, 2014 City Council agenda, item numbers 71-77, http://www.cityofomaha.org/cityclerk/city-council/agendas.

Mayor Jean Stothert has selected Tetrad Property Group to redevelop the Omaha Civic Auditorium site at 17th and Capitol. Demolition could begin next year.

“Project 19” will replace the 60-year old auditorium.  It’s just a working name for now, based on the expected completion date of 2019.

Tetrad plans a $300 million mixed-use development, including retail, residential, a civic component and a 14-story office building. “If we have demand for 40 stories, we’ll build 40,” said Tetrad Property Group President and CEO Zach Wiegert. “Hopefully our plan grows; we’re open to a larger project.” Wiegert says the project could include a museum or a digital library. The current parking garage will remain on the site.

The City announced a request for proposals in February; two developers responded, Tetrad and The Opus Group.  Mayor Stothert said Tetrad’s record with large-scale development and the company’s engagement with businesses and residents near the Civic Auditorium sold her on the proposal, “That’s very important to me. Before I decided to go ahead with the request for proposals, we did the same thing.  We met with downtown stakeholders and asked for their opinion.”

Wiegert says many of the neighbor’s ideas are built into their plan, including restaurants, “The number one thing we heard from neighbors is the demand for restaurants within walking distance.”

Tetrad’s projects include the Buffett Cancer Center under construction at the Nebraska Medical Center, the Blue Cross Blue Shield corporate headquarters at Ak-Sar-Ben Village and the Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln.  

Tetrad’s partner is Todd Heistand of NuStyle development. “It‘s a great project and that’s why I am happy to join the team,” said  Heistand.  NuStyle’s downtown residential projects include The Wire, Slate and Highline.

The project will be eligible for tax-increment financing. Wiegert said Tetrad will not ask the city for financing plans that haven’t been used before.

Mayor Stothert named a team to review the proposals including Deputy Chief of Staff for Economic Development Cassie Seagren, Planning Director James Thele, Planning consultant Steve Jensen, City Attorney Paul Kratz, Finance Director Steven Curtiss, and Public Works Director Bob Stubbe. The committee interviewed both companies. Mayor Stothert also participated in those interviews.  

Effective August 1, the Omaha Fire Department plans to implement a new system to transport trauma patients to Omaha hospitals.

In March, the Nebraska Medical Center announced it would end the long-standing shared trauma system with Alegent Creighton Hospital. Under that system, in place since 1993, the two hospitals are designated as trauma centers on alternating days. Beginning August 1, both hospitals plan to operate trauma centers around the clock and both plan to apply for Level I Trauma Center national accreditation.

The Omaha Fire Department EMS Committee, OFD Command staff, Paramedic shift supervisors and the Midlands Protocol Committee have worked for several months to develop a Trauma Center Transport Protocol that ensures the continuation of quality patient care.  “Patient care is our priority,” said Omaha Fire Chief Bernie Kanger. “This plan is fair and balanced and provides emergency medical care and transportation when citizens need our immediate help.”

The new protocol will set up an odd-even rotation between the Nebraska Medical Center and Alegent Creighton for adult patients only.  Patients who are in stable condition may choose either trauma center for emergency care. Non-stable patients will be automatically transported to the designated trauma center of the day based on the odd-even system.

The pediatric trauma protocol will not change. Pediatric patients will continue to be treated at Children’s Hospital and the Nebraska Medical Center, depending on the severity of their injuries.

The change is expected to take effect at 7:00 a.m. on August 1.

 

 

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert announced Wednesday that she will create the Mayor’s Active Living Advisory Committee.  The volunteer board will provide the forum for community input and recommendations to promote many aspects of active living, including transportation and recreation.

“We have to look at all ways people commute in our community; that includes bikes, pedestrians and public transportation. If we want Omaha to grow and be more competitive those things are important to people coming into the community and they’re important to us too,” said Mayor Stothert.  “An advisory board of stakeholders will provide me with more input than I have now.”

The 2015 recommended city budget eliminates the position of Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator,  created in 2011 and funded with grants which are expiring. The Mayor did not allocate general fund money for the position in 2015.

“We are encouraged that Mayor Stothert is taking this step to form an official Mayoral Committee to help guide her in making great decisions that benefit all people regardless of how they move around our community,” said Live Well Omaha Executive Director Anne Meysenburg.

The Mayor has signed an Executive Order to create the Active Living Advisory Committee and appointed Live Well Omaha Program Manager Julie Harris as committee chairperson. Committee members will be recommended by the chair and appointed by the Mayor.  The Planning, Public Works and Parks Departments will also be represented on the committee.

 

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert proposed the 2015 budget Tuesday, including a property tax rate cut, the first cut since 2001. 

“Every property owner benefits from this tax rate cut,” said Mayor Stothert. “Most people tell me they want property tax relief.  This is the fiscally responsible thing to do.” The reduction will result in citizens paying about two million dollars less in property taxes next year.

The Mayor set three goals for the 2015 budget: tax relief, increase the cash reserve fund and pay down the debt.  This budget achieves all three.

The budget proposal adds $750,000 to cash reserve, resulting in a $6 million balance; a record high. The contingent liability fund will be increased by $650,000, increasing the fund to $1.9 million dollars.

Overall general fund spending would increase 2.3% over the current year, including slight increases in the fire and police department budgets. The police budget includes hiring 21 additional officers in 2015. 

“This important enhancement to our crime fighting efforts will result in budgeting for 825 sworn officers for our city in 2015.  It also approaches my long-term goal of 840 sworn officers, which we will achieve in 2016. We must continue the progress we are making to reduce violent crime. The personal safety of all citizens is without a doubt, our most important responsibility.” 

Budget highlights include:

  • 21 additional police officers
  • Continued funding for the neighborhood grant program and significantly increased funding for neighborhood alliance support
  • A large increase in funding for the Step-Up summer jobs program
  • Additional funding for our convention and tourism efforts to increase promotion, attract more visitors, and build on the reputation we have as a great city for regional and national sports and other events
  • City parks, swimming pools, and libraries will remain open with no change in hours
  • Increased street resurfacing budget by $200,000 to a total of $7.1 million
  • The budget for brick street repair will be doubled
  • Maintain nearly $1 million dollars in demolition and fill nine positions for building inspectors
  • An initial investment of 150-thousand dollars for an Omaha Land Bank

The Omaha City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, August 12 at 7:00 p.m. in the Legislative Chambers, 1810 Farnam.  The Mayors budget speech to the City Council is available on line at http://mayors-office.cityofomaha.org.  There is also a link to the recommended budget.

 

 

Responding to complaints about delays in yard waste collection, the Omaha Public Works Department met Wednesday with Deffenbaugh Industries management, requiring immediate corrective actions.

Deffenbaugh attributes delays to the unusually wet weather in June and July, causing a significant delay in yard waste and a shortage of CDL-licensed drivers. For example, on a recent day in July, 120 tons of yard waste was collected, compared to an average 80 tons per day.

The company currently has eleven drivers for yard waste collection, 18-19 are needed.  Two additional drivers have been hired and will start Monday July 21, four others are in training.  That will bring the number of qualified drivers to nearly correct staffing levels by early next month. The company will also hire a local Recruiting Manager to be based in Omaha and focus on employee recruitment in the local area.

Deffenbaugh is currently collecting yard waste Monday-Saturday, which will continue indefinitely. Yard waste trucks now have three-person crews to speed up neighborhood collections.

“The complaints from taxpayers are valid. We have had 109 complaints to the Mayor's Hotline since July 1.  We take this very seriously,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “Deffenbaugh has a contract to provide that service and we expect the company to remedy this problem.”

Delays in pickup should be reported to the Mayor’s Hotline 402-444-5555.  More information about all solid waste collection is available at wasteline.org

 

 

 

  

 

The 2014 annexation package will be presented to the Omaha Planning Board and the Omaha City Council this month.  The plan includes thirteen SIDs, four business parks and the Miracle Hills Golf Course.  This is the first annexation package proposed since 2012 and one of the largest in recent history.  Homeowners and businesses will receive information this week about annexation, city services and an informational open house.

The total valuation of the areas to be annexed is $932,359,380. The 2010 Census data shows the population of the SIDs is 8,752. 

“It’s important for the City to continue growing,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “This annexation package will increase city revenues and in most cases decrease residential property taxes in the areas to be annexed.”    

The informational Open House will be held July 16th, 6:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at Burke High School, 12200 Burke Boulevard.  The Omaha Planning Board will hold a public hearing July 21st, the City Council public hearing is scheduled August 12 with a final vote on August 19th. The anticipated effective date of the annexation is September 3.

"We are committed to providing quality customer service. These neighborhoods will immediately receive all the services provided by the City, including police and fire protection, solid waste collection, street maintenance and snow removal without increasing the city budget,” said Mayor Stothert.    

The proposed areas to be annexed are:

RESIDENTIAL:

Riverside Hills                            SID 281             Near 222nd and Pacific

Brookhaven                             SID 294             South of 108th and Q

Turtle Creek                             SID 295             South of 96th & Q

Harper Valley                            SID 301             South of 48th & Q

Eagle Run III                            SID 365             South of 144th & Maple

Cambridge Estates                   SID 366             168TH & Pacific

Woodbridge                             SID 373             North of 72nd & Crown Point

Mission Park                               SID 376            South of 168th & Q

Baywood                                   SID 382            North of 180th & F

Linden Estates                            SID 397            North of Dodge, 132nd to 144

 2nd Addition                                         

Pacific Springs                           SID 398             North of 160th & Pacific

Skyline Meadows                       SID 408             Near 222 & West Dodge

Arbor Oaks                                SID 418             Northwest of 144th & Maple

 

BUSINESS PARKS:

Southwestern Plaza                 SID  407             South of 144TH & F

Altech Business Park               SID  422              North of 144TH & F

I-80 Business Park                    SID  436            Near 115th south of Q

Blondo 108th Business Park   SID   510             108TH & Blondo

 

Miracle Hills Golf Course                                      North of 120th & Dodge     

 

Annexed areas will be subject to most City sales and use taxes in early 2015. Over the next 10 years, the City projects to collect approximately $10 million dollars in additional sales tax.  

 

 

Omaha, NE - Omaha Police Union Local 101 filed a lawsuit in Douglas County  District Court  June 25th asking the court  to extend the current collective bargaining agreement through the end of 2014. The current contract expired at the end of 2013.The union claims that the City did not provide "written notice" of its desire to negotiate for 2014. The City believes the union's position is frivolous because negotiations had already started.

The contract contains a provision where one party is required to inform the other of its desire to open negotiations prior to April 1. The City’s negotiator met with the Union President to begin the negotiation process on February 27, 2014. During their initial meeting, the Union President made a specific offer. The City’s negotiator responded to the union’s offer on March 19, 2014 with a counter proposal and the parties subsequently debated their respective positions over the next several weeks. The City believes there is little doubt, contrary to the union’s assertions in the lawsuit, that negotiations had already commenced by April 1, 2014.

When the City responded to the union’s offer with additional terms the union disliked, the union, rather than responding, manufactured this technical gotcha argument to avoid the potential consequences of good faith negotiations.

Mayor Stothert called the lawsuit troubling, “The police union’s position is a clear indication that the union leadership is afraid to be a partner in badly needed health care and pension reforms.”

The City will challenge the union’s claims and remains committed to addressing health insurance and pension reform immediately.

 

After more than a year of review, Mayor Jean Stothert will ask the City Council to approve an increase in sewer use fees to comply with the federal mandate to meet the Federal Clean Water Act standards.

Omaha is one of 772 communities in the United States required to carry out the unfunded mandate.  The total projected cost of the Clean Solutions for Omaha Program is estimated at $2 billion dollars before the anticipated completion in 2027; Omaha is currently in the third year of construction.

The proposed annual rate increases, developed with assistance from the City’s rate consultant, Red Oak Consulting, are necessary to meet the construction requirements and deadlines set by the federal government.  Residential, commercial and industrial users will all pay higher rates beginning in 2015. 

“I have spent the last year studying and re-evaluating the CSO project, looking for ways to manage costs and protect the taxpayers from hardship. I met with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, Omaha Public Works and the rate consultants,” said Mayor Stothert.  “The proposed increases in this ordinance are lower than we anticipated but still represent significant and necessary increases to comply with the federal requirements.”

The average residential customer currently pays $35.26 per month.  In 2015, the monthly average bill will increase to $39.67, $43.19 in 2016, $47.02 in 2017 and $51.17 in 2018. “Without a rate ordinance in place, there is concern we could default on our bond payments.  We must demonstrate to the bond raters that we have a long-term plan in place to pay for this.”   

Rate increases are expected to continue beyond 2018, averaging 9% each year for the duration of the project.

Sewer use fees fund the regular operation and maintenance of the daily collection and treatment of wastewater.  The higher rates will fund a portion of the city’s bond debt on the CSO program.

By the EPA’s definition, these rates do not yet place Omaha in the high-burden category for ratepayers. However, a hardship fund is in place for qualifying residential customers who cannot afford these increases.  “We are setting aside money every year in the Ratepayer Assistance Fund to help customers who need assistance,” said Mayor Stothert.

The fund was created in 2011 with one million dollars; additional funds are deposited every year. Residents who qualify for Nebraska's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will also qualify for sewer rate assistance.  The process is managed through the Metropolitan Utilities District and the assistance is reflected on the resident's M.U.D. bill. In 2013, approximately $700,000 was paid to customers who qualify.

Industrial and commercial users will also pay higher rates, depending on the amount and strength of waste discharged.  Even with the increases, non-residential rates remain among the lowest in the country.

Numerous factors have helped keep the proposed rate increase as low as possible, including lower bond interest rates than originally projected, low-interest state loans totaling $55 million dollars, more than $1 million annually  from LB 1098, passed by the Nebraska Legislature,  $2.1 million in grants,  a competitive climate for construction work, cost-saving project designs and an extended completion deadline approved after the 2011 flood.

More than 100 construction projects are planned or underway to improve the water quality to the Missouri River and the Papillion Creek; generally east of 72nd street. Over the next ten years, approximately $150 million in work will be completed annually. “I have challenged our CSO management team to continue to work on project designs and technological solutions that are cost effective and have direct impact to lower the overall program costs.  Since the program moved from the planning to design phase, we have saved over $35 million dollars,” said Mayor Stothert.

The goal of the CSO project is a 94% reduction of human waste bacteria in the Missouri River and Papillion Creek. Cities that do not comply face fines, federal lawsuits, and court supervision, driving up costs for the taxpayers.  

The rate ordinance will be introduced to the City Council for first reading on Tuesday June 24.  A public hearing and vote is scheduled for July 1

 

 

Omaha, NE – The campground and marina at Omaha’s N.P. Dodge Park will be closed tomorrow (Wednesday June 18) at 10:00 a.m. in preparation for potential flooding along the Missouri River.

The National Weather Service estimates rainfall totals north of Omaha over the last 24 hours range from 2-8” and is forecasting more rain over the next five days.

Tonight, the Missouri River at Omaha is at 22 feet.  Flood stage is 29 feet.  Over the next 18 hours, the river is expected to rise six feet to 28’.  By Sunday, the river could reach 30.4’ and could remain over flood stage for four to five days.

“The safety of people using N.P. Dodge Park is our first priority,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. Campers are being notified tonight they must leave the park by Wednesday morning.  They will be offered campsites at Lake Cunningham or receive refunds.

Boat owners have also been notified the marina will close so precautions can be taken to protect and stabilize the docks.  Boat owners can remove their boats before 10:00 a.m.  More than 340 boats are stored at the marina.  “This is expected to be a short-term situation,” said Parks Director Brook Bench.  “We think the boats will be safe in the marina.”  Bench says it’s possible the entire park will be closed.  A decision could be made Wednesday.

Freedom Park would also flood again if the Missouri River exceeds flood stage.  The park has been closed since the 2011 flood.

The Omaha Public Works Department is also  taking precautions at the Missouri River Wastewater Treatment Plant, south of Veteran’s Memorial Bridge.  Public Works Director Bob Stubbe says a  4-5 foot berm will be built south of the administration building to provide protection to the plant  area not currently protected by the levee.

The City will monitor the forecast and the river and provide an update Wednesday.