Text Size   - | +

For the second consecutive quarter this year, the City of Omaha budget shows a projected year-end surplus.

The report released Wednesday shows revenues are over budget by $2,230,459, due primarily to increased sales and motor vehicle taxes. Expenses are under budget by $3,879,504.The expense reductions are primarily in personnel and healthcare costs.

"Every city department is managing its budget, and for the first time in years, the Omaha Fire Department is on target," said Mayor Jean Stothert. “We anticipate the second half of the year will show continued sales tax growth and expense management.”

Second Quarter 2014 Revenue Highlights:

  • Motor Vehicle Taxes - $1.0 million surplus
  • City Sales and Use Tax - $2.0 million surplus
  • Utility Occupation Taxes - $1.3 million shortfall
  • Restaurant Tax - $0.75 million shortfall
  • Building Licenses and Permits – $0.5 million surplus
  • Charges for Services - $0.65 million surplus

Second Quarter 2014 Expense Highlights:

  • Fire Department – on budget
  • Police Department - $1.6 million under budget
  • Public Works Department – on budget
  • Retiree Benefits - $1.1 million over budget (pension, healthcare, COBRA)
  • Outside Agencies - $1.4 million under budget

“The increasing sales tax and motor vehicle tax revenue is encouraging,” said Finance Director Steve Curtiss. "This shows people are becoming more confident in the economy. Our forecasts show this trend will continue in 2015."

Based on the first half of the year, the Finance Department projects a year-end surplus of $6.1 million.

The United States Transportation Department will award Omaha nearly $15 million to help develop the Bus Rapid Transit system, connecting downtown Omaha to major shopping areas, medical centers and the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The BRT has been identified as a locally-preferred option in studies of the city's transit system.

The TIGER grant, (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) will pay for approximately half of the projected $30 million project. The remaining money will be raised through private sources.

Transportation Secretary Foxx made the grant announcement Monday in Turner Park at Midtown Crossing, "I come bearing good news. With TIGER, we look for innovation, and the so-what factor, How will it improve the quality of life, mobility and access to jobs," said Secretary Foxx. "This will be the first BRT in the state of Nebraska. This is a marker for the rest of the country."

The BRT will provide faster service than busses, limited stops, bike racks on every vehicle and will operate seven days a week.

"This is a very important announcement and a major step toward a complete and modern transportation system in Omaha," said Mayor Jean Stothert. "The Department of Transportation's commitment of $15 million demonstrates support of local initiatives that improve opportunities for the families who live here and the businesses that locate here."

It's expected that more than 2,700 passengers will ride the BRT on opening day, more than 1,000 new jobs will be created, 1,350 new residents will live along the corridor and the system will generate $450 million in new development. METRO Executive Director Curt Simon calls the BRT comfortable, convenient service. "I know we can and we will deliver on the confidence you have placed on us," said Simon.

This year, the Department of Transportation is awarding $600 million in TIGER grants for 72 projects. This is the first time a Nebraska community has received a TIGER grant. Secretary Foxx compared receiving a TIGER grant to being admitted to Harvard; it's that competitive. He also called on Congress to pass the Grow America Act to help repair and build roads and bridges.

The Omaha City Council passed the 2015 budget Tuesday, overriding only one veto. The Council added $175,000 for library materials, taking the money from the city’s contingency reserve fund.

The Council was not able to override the Mayor’s vetoes on budget amendments for a Complete Streets Active Living Manager, a sustainability contract and exhibits for the Great Plains Black History Museum. Those amendments were all funded with money from the contingency reserve fund, which the Mayor opposed.

In August, after the Mayor’s recommended budget was delivered to the City Council, the Douglas County Assessor revised the total property valuation for the City of Omaha, resulting in an $800,000 increase to the general fund. Mayor Stothert asked the Council to put half of the money into contingency reserve and half into the 2015 street repair budget, addressing criticism from City Council Vice-President Ben Gray and community members about the condition of streets in north and south Omaha.

“If we have unexpected revenue, I have always said we should save it, pay down our debt or return it to the taxpayers,” said Mayor Stothert. “In this case, I did suggest additional spending on street repairs to address the specific concerns raised by Councilman Gray at a news conference, at a City Council meeting and during a meeting with me.”

The Mayor’s recommended budget increased the contingency and cash reserve funds to a historic high. The final budget passed by the City Council today includes a reduction in the city’s savings account.

The Council voted 5-2 to override the Mayor’s veto of the library amendment. The Mayor’s recommended 2015 budget, including all funding sources, slightly increased funding for the library. “The library is well-funded,” said Mayor Stothert. “Every director can overspend a line item in the department budget, so if the Library Director wants to buy more materials, he can. The budget just needs to balance at the end of the year.”

The amended total budget, passed by the Council includes the Mayor’s property tax rate cut, the first in the city in 14 years. The Mayor called the vote “very positive” for the City and shows the 2015 budget is fiscally sound.

Mayor Jean Stothert vetoed four budget amendments passed by the City Council, citing the need for saving, not spending.

The Mayor vetoed the amendment to create a “Complete Streets Active Living Manager” to be employed in the Public Works Department. The amendment for the $60,000 position was proposed by council member Chris Jerram to replace the current Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator which will be eliminated at the end of the year. “It is unnecessary to create and fund a new position. There is a vacant position in the Planning Department that is already budgeted in 2015. The person we choose will have experience with all modes of transportation and well-established relationships in the community,” said Mayor Stothert.

The amendment to fund exhibits at the Great Plains Black History Museum with $40,000 has also been returned with a veto. The amendment was proposed by council member Ben Gray. The Mayor points to the ongoing disagreement over control and management of the Museum as well as other available funding sources provided by the City, including turnback tax. Over the last three years, the Museum has received more than $32,000 through the turnback tax.

The Mayor vetoed Chris Jerram’s amendment to spend $50,000 on a contract for sustainability consulting, noting the Planning Department’s Sustainability programs are evident in current and planned projects, including development of a Complete Streets policy, planning for mass transit improvements, ensuring neighborhood connectivity through street and trail connections and assisting LiveWell and B-Cycle expand their bike rental stations.

Also, the Community Development division develops garden sites on city-owned land with neighborhood associations and local gardening groups, operates an energy conservation grant program for lower income homeowners and landlords renting to lower income tenants, a rehabilitation program to retain older housing and an infill housing program for older neighborhoods. The building and development team works with the State Energy Office to update the Omaha and State Energy Code.

The Mayor also vetoed an additional $175,000 appropriation to the Omaha Public Library for materials.

The 2015 library budget is slightly up from 2014 (0.3%) including the Wage Adjustment Account. As with all departments, the Director has the ability to spend more on materials as long as he decreases spending on other line items.

“Each of these budget amendments takes money out of the contingency reserve fund. It is my goal to increase that fund and demonstrate to our bond raters that we can pay our debt and build up a healthy cash reserve. Unexpected revenue should be saved, not spent,” said Mayor Stothert.

The only amendment returned without a veto will add eight additional police recruits to the recruit class already scheduled to begin in 2015 ($341,701), additional funds for street repair and resurfacing ($200,000) and increasing the contingency reserve fund ($141,701). This amendment was proposed by Council President Pete Festersen.

“Public safety is my number one priority. With the graduation of 36 new police recruits just this past week, we are no longer at a “10-year low” but close to full authorized strength. Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and I plan to increase the number of sworn officers to 825 in 2015 and 840 in 2016,” said the Mayor. “The City Council’s actions will not increase the sworn strength beyond our goal of 840 officers in 2016. It simply allows the Chief and me to move even faster to achieve our goals.”

The current plan is to begin a recruit class in the summer of 2015 and a second class in December, 2015.

The costs included in President Festersen’s amendment will be covered by the unexpected estimated increase in Omaha’s total property value, resulting in an additional $800,000 in the General Fund.

As a matter of procedure, Mayor Stothert has also vetoed the 2015 budget as amended by the City Council.

The Council can vote to override the vetoes at the next scheduled meeting on September 9, 2014.

Omaha, NE - After nearly a decade of negotiations, the Omaha Police Department and the Douglas County Sheriff today announced a new, cooperative agreement to share crime lab services. "Both departments already provide excellent investigative services," said Mayor Jean Stothert. "This agreement will provide an even higher level of service, at no additional cost to the taxpayers. It eliminates the redundancies of two crime labs."

The agreement defines the duties of each department's forensic lab, it does not affect the crime scene investigators of either department.

The Omaha Police Department will operate an Electronic Forensic Analysis Squad. The unit will examine computers, cell phones and other electronic devices for both agencies. "I am especially looking forward to the formation of the Electronic Forensic Analysis Squad," said Police Chief Todd Schmaderer. "In this day and age of cell phones and computers, the examination of these devices for violent, property, and white-collar crimes is essential. In nearly every crime, there is a cell phone we need to dig into."

OPD will also do all the ballistic testing for both agencies.

The Douglas County Sheriff's crime lab will perform controlled substance analysis and blood alcohol analysis for both departments. OPD currently outsources this work and will pay the county $135,000 annually to help pay for two additional chemists and other related costs. The county lab technicians will also perform trace evidence analysis.

"This co-operative agreement will enhance communication between the Sheriff’s Office and OPD in other areas of the investigative process," said Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning. "This agreement will also now ensure that all chemical evidence for all agencies in DouglasCounty will be from one source and assure uniformity in the investigative process as well as prosecution."

Dunning said he has pursued shared services for at least nine years, working with many mayors and police chiefs.

"As many of you know the City has had many Chiefs during that period of time. New Chief, new discussion, next Chief, a new discussion and that drill went on until the next chief and you can imagine how frustrating it was to start the discussions over and over," said Sheriff Dunning. "I have said before if you don’t mind who gets the credit you can accomplish anything."

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said prosecutors will benefit from the agreement, "Our job is to provide justice for the community. This agreement will help us achieve that goal."

The agreement must be approved by the Omaha City Council and the Douglas County Board of Commissioners. It is expected to take effect on January 1, 2015.

Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer pledged a thorough investigation following the shooting of a robbery suspect and a member of the TV show COPS production crew at a fast-food restaurant Tuesday night. “We are striving for unprecedented transparency in this investigation,” said Chief Schmaderer.

Officers shot and killed the suspect 32-year-old Cortez Washington. 38-year-old Bryce Dion was killed by friendly fire. Dion was a Sound Supervisor for COPS.

The Chief provided this chronology of the incident:

At 9:05 p.m. Omaha Police officers were dispatched to a robbery at Little Caesar’s Pizza at 637 North Saddle Creek. Detective Darren Cunningham also responded to that call. The suspect in this robbery was described as a white female.

At 9:20 p.m., Detective Cunningham called for back-up to the Wendy’s at 43rd and Dodge for a robbery in progress. Chief Schmaderer says it is not clear yet if Cunningham saw the robbery as he drove by or if people in the parking lot flagged him down.

Those back-up officers, Brooks Riley and Jason Wilhelm arrived at Wendy’s 15 seconds later. The COPS production crew was riding with Riley and Wilhelm. All three officers went into the restaurant, the COPS photographer Michael Lee and sound tech Dion followed, recording the officer’s response.

Inside Wendy’s, officers confronted Washington, who was armed with a handgun. Photos released by OPD show Washington pointing the gun at the officers. Three witnesses inside the restaurant told police they saw Washington fire the gun at Officer Riley and Detective Cunningham. The officers returned fire, hitting Washington. Despite his injuries, Washington was able to get out of the restaurant and collapsed in the parking lot. Police recovered the gun in the parking lot and determined it is an airsoft pistol that fires plastic pellet bullets. The Chief explained the gun looks and functions like a real handgun and provided photos showing the similarities. The witnesses told police they heard the heard the shots from Washington’s gun and saw the slide recoil.

As the first shots were fired, Dion took shelter in the entryway of the restaurant. He was hit by an officer’s bullet as Washington fled out that same entryway. COPS photographer Lee crouched in the dining room, held his camera overhead, recording the incident.

“Based on the video evidence, officers had no choice other than to respond the way they did,” said Chief Schmaderer. “Officers courageously entered into a hostile environment to save lives.”

COPS crews have been in Omaha since June, riding with police officers, producing segments scheduled to air this fall. Chief Schmaderer explained why he agreed to let COPS document the daily work of officers, “We’ve had some rough times and we’ve overcome that. I accepted their invitation because I wanted the city to see how professional we are. It was a very professional response by the officers who entered the restaurant last night. Personally, I will live with this forever. If I had known this would happen, of course I would not have done it.”

COPS Executive Producers Morgan and John Langley arrived in Omaha Wednesday afternoon and described Dion as one of their best. “He did something he loved and was passionate about,” said Morgan Langley. COPS crews are trained and wear bullet-proof vests.

“Crime is democratic, it happens in every city, it is not a reflection on Omaha,” said John Langley. “COPS is a true reality show. It happens as it happens. Unfortunately, it’s a highlight and a low light.”

Chief Schmaderer and Mayor Jean Stothert both offered condolences to the families of Dion and Washington, as well as the COPS staff. “The production crews have developed a close relationship with the officers that they ride with each and every day. Just as the officers face the dangers of policing with honor, courage, and integrity, so do the production crews of COPS,” said the Chief.

“I am proud of the leadership in the Omaha Police Department, and its focus on community relations. Our entire community can be confident that Chief Schmaderer will lead a thorough and transparent investigation,” said Mayor Stothert.

The officers involved have been placed on paid administrative leave, as required by OPD policy. Detective Cunningham is a 10-year OPD veteran, assigned to the Detective Bureau. He is 37-years-old. Officers Riley and Wilhelm have both been on the force for four years and are assigned to the Uniform Patrol in the Northeast Precinct. Riley is 34-years-old; Wilhelm is 39.

Cortez Washington was on parole for a robbery charge in Missouri. He was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to seven years. His criminal record also includes Tampering with a Motor Vehicle, and Resisting Arrest, also in Missouri.

As required by state law, a grand jury will investigate the incident, in addition to the police investigations.

Mayor Jean Stothert notified the Omaha City Council today that the Douglas County Assessor has determined that the total property value in the City of Omaha will be higher than expected in 2014.

The Certification of Taxable Value and Value Attributable to Growth Statement for tax year 2014 shows the total property value, as of August 20, 2014 is $28,018,390,210.

The revised total of $28 billion is approximately $300 million over the estimated property valuation included in the recommended 2015 budget and will result in a General Fund increase of approximately $800,000. This total does not include the value of property included in the 2014 annexation package passed by the City Council this week. The annexations will be effective September 3, 2014.

Mayor Stothert urged the City Council to appropriate half of this additional revenue, approximately $400,000 to the Contingency Reserve Fund. The Mayor’s 2015 budget already includes adding $750,000 to the cash reserve fund and $650,000 to the contingent liability fund. She also asked the Council to allocate the remaining funds to road repair and resurfacing, primarily in north and south Omaha.

“We need to invest in our roads,” said Mayor Stothert. “I have already increased the budget for street repairs and resurfacing to more than seven million dollars in 2015. By allocating part of this new revenue to the road repair budget, the Council will send a strong message to citizens that we recognize the city-wide need for repairs.”

The final 2013 City of Omaha budget report has been completed, showing a year-end surplus of more than $11 million dollars. The surplus is the result of increased revenue and expense reductions.

“The taxpayers expect us to spend their money carefully,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “This surplus shows we can operate more efficiently and still provide excellent customer service.”

As required by the City Charter, the surplus is included in Mayor Stothert’s recommended 2015 budget currently pending before the City Council.

The 2013 budget report shows revenues increased $1,734,762 over projections. Expenses came in under budget by $9,366,977 for a total surplus of $11,757,311. “The surplus helps us achieve our budget goals for 2015; pay down our debt, increase the cash reserve to an historic high and return money to taxpayers with the modest property tax cut the Mayor has proposed,” said Finance Director Steve Curtiss.

Highlights of the year-end report include:

  • Sales tax revenue: $1.1 million under budget
  • In lieu taxes and Licenses and Permits: $2.7 million over budget
  • Property tax revenue: $0.6 over budget
  • Business taxes: $2.5 million under budget
  • Omaha Police Department: $5.3 million under budget
  • Omaha Library: $0.5 million under budget
  • Omaha Fire Department $1.3 million over budget
  • Mayor’s Office, City Clerk, City Council, Law, HR, Human Rights and Relations, Finance, Planning, Public Works and Parks and Recreation collectively: $1.3 million under budget

In addition to the final 2013 report, the Finance Department has also completed the 1st quarter report for 2014, showing a similar outcome; revenues are up and expenses are down. In the first three months of the year, revenue is up $2.3 million. Expenses are under budget $2.7 million. The Omaha Fire Department is currently $0.9 million over budget primarily due to Injured on Duty pay and sick time. The department is expected to end the year on budget.

Based on the first quarter performance, the Finance department projects a 2014 budget surplus of $5,095,256.

“We are continuing a positive trend. Through good budget management in all city departments, we anticipate another year of savings for the taxpayers,” said Mayor Stothert.

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.