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Mayor Jean Stothert | City of Omaha

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(January 31, 2017)  Mayor Jean Stothert asked the Douglas County Board to support a cap on residential property valuations, responding to frequent questions and criticism of the recent increases set by the Douglas County Assessor.

The Mayor testified Tuesday in support of a resolution to limit increases to a maximum of three percent in 2017.  Many homeowners have been shocked and angered to learn of increases ranging from four to 23%.

“These increases will be unaffordable for many of our citizens,” said Mayor Stothert. “Without warning and after years of no significant increases, the decision to catch up all at once is unfair. We must advocate for the taxpayers we represent and attempt to remedy the burden."

State statute requires county assessors in Nebraska to set property valuations. Local government subdivisions with taxing authority set their levies based on valuations, including school districts, educational service units, transit authorities, natural resource districts, community colleges and cities. 

“I have already pledged to once again reduce the property tax rate for the citizens of Omaha by at least 2%. However, even with our two previous reductions in 2015 and 2017, many taxpayers will not benefit because the valuation increases are so significant,” said Mayor Stothert.

She challenged all local government subdivisions to reduce their levies and provide relief to our taxpayers.

“If we all did this, taxpayers would see a significant tax decrease,” she said.

Last week, Assessor Diane Battiato defended the preliminary increases and encouraged property owners to make an appointment with an appraiser in the assessor’s office to review their valuations.  Battiato told the commissioners the increases are due in part to the rising residential real estate market.

One after another, homeowners told commissioners they could no longer afford their homes if the preliminary valuations are not reduced; some suggested the increases are unlawful.

Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom President Doug Kagan told commissioners, “Our group is asking the county commissioners to use their maximum authority to rollback these increases.  We no longer request relief from our elected officials, we demand it.”

Assessor Battiato told the commissioners she has developed several options to review the increases and reduce the burden on owners and would include the 3% cap in the alternatives.

“Even though we cannot require the assessor to make broad changes, I support the resolution, and urge you to vote yes on this resolution” said Mayor Stothert.

The board voted 6-1 to support the resolution capping the increases.

(January 12, 2017) 

A six-month study of Omaha’s yard waste collection and disposal system has been completed and will be used to evaluate future solid waste collection services

Mayor Stothert said the objective of the study was to answer two questions, what is the cost of producing and bagging Oma-Gro and are there environmental benefits of collecting yard waste and trash together?

“It verifies a lot of the areas we had already looked at,” said Mayor Stothert.

The City Council approved the $160,000 yard waste study in June and later requested that SCS add the public opinion survey and a comparative analysis of other cities.  

SCS studied five different scenarios for yard waste:

  • Separate yard waste collection and composting by the City
  • Comingled collection of yard waste and garbage, taken to the landfill
  • Separate yard waste collection and composting by a third party, hauled to a third party facility
  • Separate yard waste collection and composting by a third party with a transfer station, then hauled to a third party facility
  • Comingled collection of yard waste with garbage and landfilling with limited voluntary drop-off of yard waste by citizens to an at-risk third party facility

The study listed numerous outcomes:

  • Elimination of separate yard waste collection reduces necessary collection routes
  • Elimination of separate yard waste collection eliminates the expense of operating the Oma-Gro composting operation.

The SCS study determined the total cost to make and sell Oma-Gro, including separate collection of yard waste, production and packaging is $1.3 million annually.  The annual revenue from sales in approximately $160-170,000. 

“Making Oma-Gro is expensive for the taxpayers,” said Mayor Stothert.

  • Elimination of separate yard waste collection results in estimated $8 million savings, equal to $60 per household annually
  • Landfilling yard waste will reduce the life of the landfill by an estimated 3.79% with the landfill reaching capacity in 117 years versus the current estimate of 122 years
  • Landfilling yard waste will result in additional landfill gas available for electrical generation
  • Landfilling yard waste results in modeled greenhouse gas emissions that are marginally higher than when separately collected and composted; approximately 2,459 megagrams (Mg) CO2e in year 2040.  This amount is equivalent to the annual tailpipe emissions of about 3,560 passenger vehicles.

 “The study is not intended to suggest one approach is better than another, landfilling and composting are both viable alternatives,” said Mike Miller, Vice-President of SCS Engineers.

Yard Waste Study Report Final version 1.0

Thirteen cities are included in the comparative analysis. The telephone survey included 550 citizens from all city council districts.

“We really want to know what people want,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. 

The survey shows participants are generally satisfied with the collection services provided by the city.

Most (92%) discard yard waste on occasion.  Six in 10 people said they would support limits on yard waste collection.  Yard waste is currently unlimited even though the City currently does limit the number of containers that can be used for garbage each week.

The survey found general support for an automated collection system using carts. This type of system is currently being tested in 5 neighborhoods.  The test will run through April.  (http://mayors-office.cityofomaha.org/city-news/256-mayor-announces-pilot-program-to-test-alternate-trash-collection )

Public Opinion Survey Summary Letter Final version 1.0

Public Opinion Survey Summary Letter Final version 1.0 (redacted cross tabs)

The results of the yard waste study, public survey and comparative analysis, along with the results of the ongoing pilot program testing automatic pickup of yard waste, trash and recycling will be evaluated as the city prepares to develop a new Request for Proposals for collection.

Omaha’s current contract with Waste Management has been in place since 2006.  The contract was originally awarded to Deffenbaugh Industries; Waste Management purchased Deffenbaugh in 2015.  The 10-year contract had a provision for a five-year extension which the City Council approved.  The contract expires in 2020.  Waste Management has indicated it would agree to terminate the contract early and bid on a new proposal.  The RFP is expected to be ready by late summer.

The city currently budgets $20 million a year for solid waste collection.

“The current contract is very beneficial to the City of Omaha,” said Public Works Director Bob Stubbe.  “We don’t believe any contract moving forward will even be close to what we pay now.”

“Our intent is to provide better service to the citizens of Omaha,” said Mayor Stothert.

Benchmark Study Report Final version 1.0

 

(January 9, 2016) A wage increase, pension reform and a major change in health care benefits highlight the tentative agreement between the City and the Omaha Police Officers Association. 

Mayor Jean Stothert and OPOA President John Wells made the announcement Monday.

“Our priority has always been to resolve this and get a long-term agreement,” said OPOA President John Wells. “We had a breakthrough when we met with the Mayor. We were able to get some momentum to make it a fair contract for our members.”

That meeting took place in December, negotiations resumed Friday. The tentative agreement needs approval from the union, the Personnel Board and the City Council, which is expected to take six to eight weeks.

Mayor Stothert said moving from a major medical plan to a high deductible plan with a health savings account was the primary goal of negotiations.  The change is expected to save approximately $2 million during the term of the contract. The police union will be the first bargaining unit to make the shift.

The agreement, which runs through 2020, also includes the first wage increase for officers since 2013.  Officers will get a 3% increase in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.  They will receive back pay of 2.5% for 2016. “We have saved money every year for this, we have the money to fund the increases,” said Mayor Stothert.

The union also agreed to make additional pension contributions beginning in 2018 and the Mayor agreed to match those contributions.  Each will contribute an additional .75%.  “We currently have a plan in place that if all assumptions are met will result in the police and fire pension system being fully funded in 25 years.  The changes in this new agreement fund the pension sooner,” said Mayor Stothert. “It’s important for our city, our employees, the taxpayers and the bond raters.”

The bond rating companies have singled out the unfunded pension liability and unresolved labor contracts as reasons for not awarding the city a Triple A bond rating.  If the OPOA agreement is approved, the City will now have agreements with all city unions.

The previous contract with OPOA expired into 2013, it was extended through 2014. Negotiations ended in 2015.  Both Mayor Stothert and OPOA President Wells said they were close to an agreement when talks broke off.

“This collaborative effort will allow Chief Schmaderer to lead the department into the future with a quality work force that is not working under the uncertainty of no labor agreement,” said Mayor Stothert.

“With this labor contract in effect, it will allow us to recruit, and retain a very professional police department to serve the citizens of Omaha,” said Police Chief Todd Schmaderer.

(December 28, 2016)

Mayor Jean Stothert has named Dan Olsen to become Chief of the Omaha Fire Department.  Olsen has served as Interim Chief since May, following the retirement of Chief Bernie Kanger. 

“Throughout his nearly 24-year career with the Omaha Fire Department, Chief Olsen’s priority has always been the safety of our citizens and firefighters,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “He is very qualified, trusted and tested and will be a strong leader.”      

Ten candidates initially applied for the position, and eight completed the testing process. The testing was conducted by IO Solutions, a City contractor that provides employment testing for open positions and promotions in the Omaha Fire and Police Departments.

As permitted by City code, the four highest-scoring candidates on the three-part test were referred to Mayor Stothert for interviews and selection, Olsen was not one of the initial four.  During the process, one candidate dropped out and a second was recently eliminated by Mayor Stothert, so the next highest scoring candidates were notified and interviewed, including Interim Chief Olsen

City hiring policies provide that a candidate can be eliminated from further consideration based on an approved job performance-related reason.  Mayor Stothert exercised her right to eliminate retired Colorado Springs Fire Chief Christopher Riley after the interview and background search. Human Resources Director Mikki Frost accepted the justification for rejection and referred the next candidate, Dan Olsen, for an interview. 

Chief Olsen was hired in 1993 at the rank of firefighter.  He has been promoted to numerous command positions including Captain, Battalion Chief, Assistant Chief and Interim Chief.  He is also a certified police officer, graduating from the police academy in 2009. He has a wide range of fire and rescue operations experience including fire suppression, multi-alarm fire incident command, federal emergency management, hazardous materials, homeland security training, emergency medical training, and arson investigation.  He has also managed the department’s budget, equipment upgrades and purchases, supervised firefighter training programs, and participated in labor negotiations.       

“This position requires superior training  and operational experience, budget and personnel management, leadership skills  and public relations. We have made a decision that is good for the citizens of Omaha and good for the fire department,” said Mayor Stothert.   

(December 27, 2016)

Mayor Jean Stothert has named a citizen advisory committee to review a new policy for replacing unimproved streets.

For many decades, property owners have been solely responsible for the cost of improvements to neighborhood streets that were built many years ago, do not meet current city standards and have deteriorated to the point they need to be replaced. 

“I believe the City must share this cost with the property owners,” said Mayor Stothert. “The current policy puts the entire burden on the owners; they’re frustrated and rightly so. We will find a solution to improve these streets at a more affordable cost for the owners and the City.”

The City of Omaha has approximately 5,000 lane miles of streets, about 300 are considered unimproved.

This year, Mayor Stothert recommended and the City Council approved several cost-sharing projects on unimproved streets including 113th Street north of Pacific, 78th Avenue & Poppleton, South 95th Circle and the Rockbrook neighborhood.  Twelve more neighborhoods are in various stages of the currently required process to create Street Improvement Districts (new concrete streets) or Roadway Maintenance Districts (asphalt).

  

The primary goals of the committee will be to determine a cost sharing method, considerations for high poverty areas, selection and prioritization of street project locations, and development of a clear process of communication between the City and neighborhoods that participate in a Street Improvement District or a Road Maintenance District.  The Omaha City Council must approve the new policy.

The citizen members are:

Mr. Dean Holdsworth, a resident of the Rockbrook neighborhood which recently created a Road Maintenance District.

Julie Smith, One Omaha

Precious McKesson, North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance

Kimara Snipe, South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Highland South-Indian Hill Neighborhood Association

Mr. John Fullencamp, Fullencamp, Doyle & Jobeun

State Senator John McCollister

Public Works Director Bob Stubbe and City Engineer Todd Pfitzer will represent Public Works, Cassie Paben, Deputy Chief of Staff for Economic Development will represent the mayor’s office and Councilman Franklin Thompson will represent the Omaha City Council.  Mary Baluff has been hired to facilitate the advisory committee.

“Citizen input is important in every decision,” said Mayor Stothert. “The volunteers serving on this committee represent neighborhoods across the city and will provide important feedback that will lead to a fair policy.”

(December 22, 2016)

Emergency repairs to a collapsing manhole under Dodge Street will begin Wednesday at 52nd and Dodge.  Traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction from 49th Street to Happy Hollow Boulevard during the repairs, which are expected to take two weeks.

The repairs will be made deep under Dodge Street at 19 feet and 34 feet.

MUD is currently doing preliminary work on South 52nd Street, south of Dodge. The next phase will begin December 28th.  When complete, a City contractor will repair the street.  Unless there is a significant weather delay, the work should be completed by January 13th.

City of Omaha Engineer Todd Pfitzer explained this is an unexpected collapse. “When it breaks, we absolutely have to get it fixed as fast as we can,” said Pfitzer.  Delaying repairs could cause further damage, even a sinkhole.  

Message boards along Dodge Street and the West Dodge Expressway will alert drivers to the lane changes.  Pfitzer recommends an alternate route.  “No one likes surprises.  The earlier we can get the word out, it will help inform commuters,” he said.

In the construction zone, the speed limit will be reduced from 35mph to 25mph.  Since Dodge Street is a state highway, the Nebraska Department of Roads has approved the temporary, lower speed limit.

(December 14, 2016)

Mayor Jean Stothert has pledged to double the City of Omaha’s financial commitment to the Step-Up Omaha Summer Jobs program in 2018.  The mayor made the announcement Saturday at the Empowerment Network’s annual State of North Omaha event.

Mayor Stothert increased the City’s contribution to Step-Up in 2014 to $300,000 and again to $500,000 in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

In 2018, she plans to increase funding to $1 million to help expand Step-Up to a year-round job training and placement program for teens and young adults.

“Step-Up is a very successful partnership with city government, business, philanthropic donors and non-profit organizations,” said Mayor Stothert. “I want to provide the opportunity to prepare even more young people for employment and careers."  

The Empowerment Network started Step-Up in 2008.  More than 4,000 teens and young adults have participated in the program.

“There is a direct correlation between Step-Up and a reduction in violent crime during the summer months,” said Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer. “The Empowerment Network is a valuable community partner for law enforcement and the Mayor’s increased financial support will have significant benefits for our community.”

   

(December 8, 2016)

Licensing fees for a variety of businesses have been eliminated from the 2017 City of Omaha budget; most are obsolete, no longer enforced or duplicate fees charged by others.

The fees, most dating back more than 35 years, have been required for a variety of business uses.  Revenue from these fees decreases each year.  In 2014, the total revenue was $60,306.00.  In 2015, it fell to $58,231.00.

The fees were eliminated from the 2017 budget, approved by the City Council in August.  The Council will now take the next step to rescind the original ordinances that established each fee.

“Eliminating these fees will not impact our City budget in any way,” said Mayor Stothert.  “It makes sense to stop charging small businesses for things like vending machines, jukeboxes and video games permits.  In many cases, it costs more to enforce the ordinance and collect the fee than the revenue it generates.”

The following license fees (see attached list) are no longer budgeted:

Go Cart Track

Merchandise Vending Machine

Rental Hall 

Merchandise Vending Distributor

Theatre

Mechanical Amusement

Used Motor Vehicle

Mechanical Amusement Distributor

Auto Musical (Juke Box)

Pool Hall

Auto Musical Distributor

Express (delivery service)

Electronic Video Amusement            

Electronic Video Amusement Distributor

In some categories there are fewer than five businesses that are subject to the licensing fee.  In other categories, it’s not possible to identify every business that should be billed.

For example, the number of merchandise vending machines in Omaha is estimated at 4,500 but there is no accurate way to know how many businesses and retailers sell beverages, candy, toys and other merchandise from vending machines.  “Licensing fees should be fairly assessed and enforced.  Since we can’t do that in many instances, the right thing to do is eliminate the fee,” said Mayor Stothert.    

Other licensing fees remain in effect and are projected to generate approximately $80,000 in 2016. 

“Businesses that have a regulatory process in place, such as state permits, federal licenses or local inspections will still be assessed an annual fee,” said Finance Director Steve Curtiss.  “In many cases, the fee pays for the inspections that enable these businesses to operate.” 

(December 1, 2016) Omaha has been announced as one of 20 TechHire communities dedicated to creating pathways for more Americans to access well-paying tech jobs and expanding local tech sectors in communities across the country. Omaha will be joining a national network of 71 TechHire communities in receiving support to spearhead efforts to help overlooked and underrepresented Americans start technology careers.

“We are very pleased to welcome Omaha to the TechHire Initiative,” said Tess Posner, Managing Director of TechHire at Opportunity@Work, “Omaha has demonstrated a true commitment to making opportunities in tech more inclusive in your community, and we at Opportunity@Work look forward to working with you to help implement, grow, and amplify your efforts.”

“Omaha is an excellent addition to the TechHire initiative. We have a strong business community to provide opportunities in tech careers including a growing, successful tech startup community,” said Mayor Jean Stothert. “My administration supports job and business growth through public-private partnerships, youth education programs, economic inclusion and financial support for community programs that enhance job training and employment. TechHire will be another resource to increase recruiting and training in this important career field.”          

Omaha’s designation as a national TechHire Community was made possible due to the collaborative efforts of AIM Institute, Interface Web School, Omaha Code School and the Greater Omaha Chamber.

“For a quarter of a century, building thriving communities and changing lives through technology has been a passion of AIM,” said Dr. Kandace Miller, president and CEO of AIM Institute. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with more organizations to grow, connect and inspire tech talent even more through the national TechHire movement.” 

“I have had the privilege of meeting so many ambitious, talented individuals who want to pursue careers in technology,” said Shonna Dorsey, managing director and co-founder of Interface Web School. “With the synergy of the organizations involved within the TechHire community, people in the Greater Omaha area will have expanded opportunities to start tech careers.”

“Greater Omaha’s tech sector is experiencing unprecedented expansion, and we are driving hard to cultivate the necessary tech talent to increase our IT workforce by 4,000 workers,” said David G. Brown, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber. “Ten greater Omaha area employers have already joined us in our TechHire initiative, but we’re looking for more to help accelerate our tech talent efforts, strengthen our local economy and build up our region’s Silicon Prairie.”

All TechHire communities go through an intensive and competitive application process to demonstrate their level of commitment and readiness in expanding the technology sector. This TechHire designation shows that Omaha has the partners, employers, training providers, and the civil leadership support needed to implement and scale tech job opportunities for everyone.

To learn more or join the TechHire Initiative, visit www.techhire.org.

ABOUT TECHHIRE

TechHire, an initiative powered by Opportunity@Work, is a nationwide, community-based movement that helps underrepresented job seekers start careers in the technology industry. TechHire partners with education providers from across the tech community to teach in- demand skills to people who want to take part in the modern economy—from overlooked youth, to veterans, to the long-term unemployed; and helps them find jobs by connecting them to a network of employers looking for tech talent.

(December 1, 2016) The Center for Digital Government has named Omaha a top ten city in the  2016 Digital Cities Survey.  The annual survey recognizes cities using technology to improve services, enhance transparency and encourage citizen engagement. This is the first time Omaha has been listed on the survey.

The survey ranks cities in five categories. Omaha placed tenth in the category of cities with populations between 250,000 and 499,999. The judges wrote,  Through websites, funding and apps, the city is working to make interactions with residents as easy and pleasant as possible. Omaha has committed to serving its population and how the public accesses municipal services.”

“One of my priorities is to improve the taxpayer experience,” said Mayor Jean Stothert.  “People want answers and actions. Using technology, we are running city government more efficiently, interacting with citizens, and solving their problems.”

“This year’s top digital cities are using technology to ensure citizens can meaningfully interact with city government more easily than in any other time in history,” said Todd Sander, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Government. “From open data portals to enhanced connectivity and mobile platforms, this year’s top-ranked cities are actively promoting transparency, encouraging citizen participation and making it easier for people to do business with government.“

The city’s application listed numerous initiatives to improve service, communications and transparency including:

  • ePCR (Electronic Patient Care Reporting) software allows paramedics to document thorough and accurate patient care information to provide to the hospital, the billing company and to the State of Nebraska.
  • Online Permitting at www.omahapermits.com. Over 60% of all permits are now issued online. Code enforcement data and fire prevention have also moved to the web.
  • Installed Oracle Business Intelligence. We are piloting spending analytics dashboards to gain visibility into direct and indirect spending across City and County to identify opportunities for consolidation and reduction of costs. This will also provide public access to financial information down to the departmental level.
  • Introduced the Park Omaha App. The app is available as a free download to use on Apple and Android smart phones. Citizens can use the app to pay for parking without leaving their vehicle, receive text messages and in-app reminders before the meter expires, extend or cancel parking duration through a text or phone call, and view, print or budget  transactions online.
  •         All websites are responsive and include social media integration. As a result, there is an increase in citizen usage of city websites through mobile devices. We have deployed more than 30 unique mobile workflows using a variety of GIS applications and devices. An example is the Omaha Parks Finder app - www.dogis.org/parksfinder. The City of Omaha Planning department is using several mobile applications for inspections and metric tracking across multiple divisions. We will also release a mobile application for contractors to use in the field to manage their permits and inspections.

“We are very proud of this recognition as it serves as a call to action to continue our strategy to push new innovations, drive cost competitive measures and enable citizens to engage with their government in new and enriching ways,” said Derek Kruse, Chief Information Officer. “The City of Omaha has a lot to be proud of and we are committed to continuing our pursuit of a digital government that best serves our community.”

More information about the Center for Digital Government and the 2016 Survey is available at this link:

http://www.govtech.com/dc/digital-cities/Digital-Cities-Survey-2016-Winners-Announced.html