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Mayor Jean Stothert | City of Omaha

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It's not too soon to think about the first snow!

The Farmer's Almanac winter forecast shows a colder but drier than normal winter here in the Midwest. The first big snow of the season is forecast the week of Thanksgiving, somewhere in Nebraska or the Dakotas.  If the forecast is right, the Public Works Department will be ready!

Omaha's odd-even parking system will remain in place on streets east of 72nd street during a snow emergency. However, after listening to feedback from people who live in those neighborhoods, the City will not issue parking tickets from 6:00 p.m. until midnight.  When a snow emergency is in effect, after 6:00 p.m. you can park on the side of the street that will be in effect the next day.  This will eliminate the need to move cars at midnight to the opposite side of the street.

This year, the Mayor's Hotline will also extend its hours whenever there is a snow that requires plowing. "I think its very important that anyone looking for information about snow removal can talk to a real person, not a voice mail," said Mayor Jean Stothert.  On regular business days, the hotline staff answers calls from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. "We'll stay until midnight if necessary on snow days," said the mayor. 

The number to the Mayor's Hotline is 402-444-5555. Mayor Stothert will also use Facebook, Twitter and the city website to get accurate information out quickly. Public Works also uses Twitter and will keep it's regular phone number for snow removal questions, 402-444-4919.

Mayor Jean Stothert made a new offer to the Omaha Fire union Tuesday evening to avoid a layoff.  The Memo, described as "the city's best effort to avoid the layoffs" sets a November 8th deadline for an agreement between the City and the union.  If no agreement is reached, the January layoff of 19 probationary firefighters will proceed.

The City's proposal states that in exchange for a reduction in the number of paramedics to be trained, the union will be given assurances that layoffs will not take place in 2014. That protection will extend to 2015 if the Omaha Fire Department comes within one-half percent of its 2014 budget, set at $90.6 million by the Omaha City Council.

The Memorandum of Agreement includes:

  • The paramedic training class scheduled to begin in December 2013 will begin in January 2014 with the size of the class being reduced from 24 to 12. The paramedic training class of 24, scheduled to begin in June, will be eliminated. The 2015 paramedic training class scheduled to begin in December 2014 will be reduced to a class of 12, or a number mutually agreed upon by Fire Management and the union.
  • The City agrees that the Omaha Fire Department positions filled as of November 1, 2013 will not be subject to layoffs in 2014. If the Fire Department is within one-half percent of its 2014 budget, those positions will also be protected from layoffs.
  • Rigs in service as of September 23, 2013 with the exception of Medic 3, located at 3126 South 16th Street, will remain in service in 2014. Again, if the Fire Department is within one-half percent of its 2014 budget, those rigs will remain in service in 2015.  A decision about Medic 3 will be made by the City and Fire Management.

In a letter to Local 385 President Steve LeClair, the City's Labor Negotiator Mark McQueen points out that the union's 7-point "Letter of Agreement" counter offer, provided to the City on Monday evening is not acceptable. "The union's offer would put unnecessary restrictions on our ability to manage and staff the Omaha Fire Department," said Mayor Stothert. "It's unreasonable to ask the City to give up its management rights indefinitely. I hope Local 385 agrees to the Memo of Agreement to prevent the layoff of 19 firefighters."

An analysis of the Fire Department's budget shows the department will be over budget in 2014 by $4,158,209.80 unless the paramedic training class is reduced or the City proceeds with the planned layoffs. The two options would provide equal cost-savings. "I feel we have the community's support on this issue. The Omaha Fire Department is always over budget.  Voters elected me to get the budget under control," said Mayor Stothert.

Firefighters with the least seniority received layoff notices this week as a result of the union refusing to agree to the staffing changes needed to meet the 2014 Omaha Fire Department budget.  The 19 firefighters were hired in February 2013.

 

Layoff notices will be delivered to 19 Omaha firefighters beginning today, as a result of Local 385 refusing to agree to necessary staffing changes to the current contract with the City of Omaha. “These layoffs can be prevented if the union, through its leadership, agrees to reduce the size of the 2014 paramedic classes,” said Mayor Jean Stothert.  “We will have over 300 certified paramedics by the end of 2014, nearly half the sworn strength of the department. Reducing the number and size of the 2014 paramedic training classes will not affect public safety.”

The fire department is $6.2 million over budget in 2013.  The Mayor says it is imperative that the city meet the 2014 budget. Layoffs have always been under consideration as an alternative to meet the Omaha Fire Department 2014 budget, though not preferred.

Mayor Stothert agreed in writing, there would be no layoffs next year if the union would agree to reduce the size of 2014 paramedic training classes from a total of 48 to 12. The union leadership rejected the offer. The Mayor also made a written offer to extend the no layoff option through 2015, if the fire department stayed within its 2014 budget, set at $90.6 million. The union leadership rejected this offer as well, insisting on an indefinite guarantee of no layoffs.

The firefighters receiving layoff notices beginning today are probationary firefighters hired in February, 2013.  The union contract allows for layoffs for budgetary reasons. The layoffs will be effective January 4, 2014. “The 19 firefighters receiving layoff notices have been determined based on their ranking on the firefighter entrance exams, as required by the contract,” said interim Fire Chief Bernie Kanger.

“With the layoffs not being effective until January, there is still time to avoid them, if the union is willing to come to an agreement,” said Mayor Stothert.

 

Five months after taking office, Mayor Jean Stothert announced today she expects to end 2013 with a budget surplus.  The 3rd quarter financial report released today shows a projected surplus of $5.6 million dollars.

In June, Mayor Stothert assumed responsibility for the 2013 budget.  At that time, the budget was projected to be $13 million dollars short at the end of the year.  A city-wide hiring freeze and careful expense management has led to the improved budget forecast.  “This is excellent news for taxpayers,” said Mayor Stothert.  “We have been able to turn around this budget without any cuts to the services people deserve and expect.”

Revenue Highlights:

  • A revenue shortfall for 2013 is projected to be $3.9 million.  The major reason is the sales tax owed to the state of Nebraska under LB 775 and the Nebraska Advantage Act, the state’s business incentive program.  Those payments are expected to total $15 million, nearly double the $7.8 million budgeted.
  • Building licenses and permits continue to increase, an indication of growth in the construction sector.  The end-of-year projection for licenses and permits is $1.1 million over budget.

Expense Highlights:

  • Fire Department projected $6.2 million over budget*
  • Police Department projected $4.9 million under budget**
  • Public Works projected $1.3 million under budget
  • Retiree health insurance benefits projected $3.1 million under budget

The Contingent Liability Fund, with a balance a $5,297,891 will be used as a source of funding for the Fire Department to help offset the projected shortfall of $6.2 million.

“The hiring freeze and savings in health insurance are the significant factors in our favorable year-end results,” said interim Finance Director Al Herink.  “The city is self-insured.  We had fewer claims than expected, reducing our costs.”

The 2013 surplus will be carried forward to 2015, as required by the city charter.  It cannot be used in 2014 since that budget has already been approved by the City Council.

*Fire is expected to be $3.3 million over in wages and $2.7 million over in benefits. OFD currently has 21 more firefighters than budgeted.

**Savings in the police department is attributed to open positions and other cost-savings measures.  The police department has the largest civilian and sworn staff.  A recruit class is planned in March 2014 to bring the sworn strength to its budgeted size, 804.

Mayor Jean Stothert has named a team of experienced city planners to lead the Omaha Planning Department.

Acting Director James Thele has been named Planning Director. Former Planning Director Steve Jensen will return as a consultant to the department. "I am excited to have Steve back in our Planning Department," said Mayor Stothert. "He is well-known and respected in the development community. Together, James and Steve will make a great team to move our Planning Department and city forward in a positive direction."

Thele has been acting director since June. Previously, he served in a number of positions in Omaha city government, including Director of the Mayor's Office of Economic Development in 1979 and later, as Assistant Planning Director. His responsibilities included managing the housing and community development program and administering federal and state grants. As Planning Director, his salary will be $140,000 a year, $40,000 less than the previous planning director earned under the former administration.

Jensen retired as Planning Director in 2009. He was hired as an intern in the Omaha Planning Department in 1972, and over the next three decades worked his way up to Planning Director, a position he held from 2005-2009.

As a paid consultant, he will earn up to $100,000 a year, without benefits. Jensen will also continue to receive his $114,000 annual pension. The Omaha City Council must approve his contract annually.

"I hope to help Mayor Stothert and the Planning Department move their priorities forward and address some of the issues that have come up over the last few years," said Jensen.

Thele said, "Steve brings a lot of continuity to the department. We have a number of priority projects he will assist with immediately."

Those projects include a review of the Urban Design code, the ongoing transit study with Metro Transit, Heartland 2050 and the 75 North Project.

Mayor Stothert reached out to developers and former city planners during the search for a permanent director to identify priorities for the department and the essential qualities for leadership. "I appreciate the honest input from the development community. The Thele-Jensen team is a result of their feedback and recommendations," said Mayor Stothert.

Mayor Jean Stothert will host a series of Town Hall meetings in October and November, one in each City Council district.

"This is another opportunity for citizens to tell me what is important in their neighborhoods," said Mayor Stothert. "I will to listen to concerns and suggestions and provide the best answers we can."

City Council members, the Mayor's Community Relations Team and her senior staff will also attend these meetings.

TOWN HALL SCHEDULE

Thursday 9/24 6:30pm Benson Community Center District 1
Thursday 10/1 6:30pm Clair Memorial United Methodist Church District 2
Monday 10/5 6:30pm AV Sorensen Community Center District 3
Monday 10/19 6:30pm Christie Heights Community Center District 4
Thursday 10/22 6:30pm Mockingbird Hill Community Center District 5
Thursday 10/29 6:30pm Saddlebrook Community Center District 7
Monday 11/2 6:30pm Montclair Community Center District 6

The 2013 Charter Review Committee will meet nine times over the next two months to study the city charter and consider changes. The Omaha city charter requires a comprehensive review of the charter every ten years. The last review was in 2003.

The committee has 25 members. Each city council member recommended two members. Mayor Stothert named the remaining 11 and approved the entire slate.

Council Appointments:

Stephen Pedersen Recommended by Pete Festersen
Mark McColley Recommended by Pete Festersen
 
Timothy Butz Recommended by Ben Gray
Symone Sanders Recommended by Ben Gray
 
Patricia Zieg Recommended by Chris Jerram
Mark McColley Recommended by Chris Jerram
 
Jonathon Benjamin-Alvarado Recommended by Garry Gernandt
William Gaughan Recommended by Garry Gernandt
 
Robert Borgeson Recommended by Rich Pahls
Matthew Beiriger Recommended by Rich Pahls
 
Walter Peffer Recommended by Franklin Thompson
Ruth Ann Popp Recommended by Franklin Thompson
 
James Cann Recommended by Aimee Melton
Mike Kennedy Recommended by Aimee Melton

Mayor Stothert Appointments:

Brinker Harding
Patrick McPherson
Anna Hernandez-Valencia
Leonard Grasz
David Kramer
Stephanie Shearer
Wesley Siebert
Mary Jane Truemper
Carol Russell
Wayne Hudson
Christine Lustgarten

Amendments to the city charter can be proposed by the Mayor, council members and committee members. Final recommendations made by the committee need approval from the City Council and voters before the charter can be changed.

2013 CHARTER STUDY REVIEW CONVENTION MEETING SCHEDULE 

 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013                             4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 

Thursday, October 17, 2013                           5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

 

Monday, October 21, 2013                             4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 

Monday, October 28, 2013                             4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 

Monday, November 4, 2013                           4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013                         4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 

Monday, November 18, 2013                         4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 

Monday, November 25, 2013                         4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 

Monday, December 2, 2103                           4:00 p.m.to 6:00 p.m.

 

 

Charter Study Convention meetings are open to the public. All meetings will occur in the Omaha/Douglas Civic Center, 1819 Farnam Street, south cafeteria on the Farnam level. 

The City of Omaha issued $25 million in bonds Tuesday to fund street and sewer projects, public facilities, parks and recreation and public safety.

The 20-year bonds were sold at the interest rate of 3.24%, nearly identical to the rate projected by underwriters prior to the announcement last week that Standard and Poor’s had downgraded the city’s bond rating. The underwriter’s projection was 3.23%.

“The interest rate proves investors have confidence in our current and future financial performance,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “Low interest rates keep taxes lower and allow us to complete more projects.”

The city’s AA+ rating from S & P is the second highest rating possible. Moody’s Investment Service reaffirmed Omaha’s AA1 bond rating .  Omaha’s bond ratings are higher than 85% of all U.S. cities.   “The slight slip in our S & P rating has not affected our ability to sell bonds at a highly attractive interest rate,” said Acting Finance Director Al Herink.

The city expects to issue bonds again in early 2014 for the combined sewer separation project.

 

 

 

Mayor Jean Stothert announced Friday that Michele (Mikki) Frost will join her administration as Human Resources, Rights and Relations Director. “I am excited to welcome Mikki back to city government,” said Mayor Stothert. “Her experience in the public and private sectors will be an asset to the city of Omaha, the taxpayers and our employees.”

Frost served as Omaha Personnel Director from 1995-2001. During that time, she was recognized with the Human Resources Employer of the Year award from the Society for Human Resources Management (Nebraska chapter) and the Health and Safety Council.

Since 2006, Frost has been Director of Community Benefit and Healthier Communities at Alegent Health. She is a graduate of the Creighton University School of Law. She has served on numerous community boards and committees.

Frost’s salary will be $140,000; a reduction from the previous director, keeping with Mayor Stothert’s campaign pledge to find efficiencies in each department. She will start in August. Steve Kerrigan will continue to serve as interim director until that time.

Mayor Jean Stothert reaffirmed her opposition to Omaha’s restaurant tax after an Omaha restaurant owner used his Facebook page to question an audit of his business.  The post has generated a lot of conversation.

“I opposed the restaurant tax and voted against it as a City Council member.  I still oppose the tax because it targets only one industry and is not broad-based,” said Mayor Stothert.  “However, the city finance department is required by the restaurant tax ordinance to conduct random audits on businesses that collect the tax. This is the current law, and as Mayor, it is my responsibility to make sure all city laws are followed.”

Mayor Stothert’s proposed 2014 budget does include the continuation of the restaurant tax.  Without it, the projected shortfall when the Mayor took office in June would have increased from $20 million to approximately $47 million dollars.  “I was able to overcome the $20 million in the time we had to prepare the budget and avoid a property tax increase. It would not be possible to make up the larger deficit in the few short weeks I had to submit the budget,” said Mayor Stothert.  “I will begin work immediately on the 2015 budget and it is still my pledge to reduce your tax burden.”

The Finance Department completes an average of ten audits a week of businesses that collect the restaurant tax.  It will also schedule random audits of businesses that collect the new tobacco tax.  Mayor Stothert also opposed that tax and voted against it as a City Council member.