Multi-million dollar surplus for 2010

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January 20th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – The city of Omaha has a surplus of $3.3 million for 2010. That’s after a projected $12 million shortfall sparked a heated debate and three tax hikes to close the gap.

Suttle says spending cuts and savings from efficiencies contributed to a $3.3 million surplus for the city's 2010 budget (Photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Spending cuts, the elimination of 218 city positions and efficiencies in city departments helped lift Omaha’s budget out of the red. That’s what Mayor Jim Suttle emphasized at a press conference Thursday to announce the surplus for 2010. But there were significant revenue contributions too: in particular, a restaurant tax that took effect October 1st and has brought in $4.2 million, far more than expected. Asked how much of the surplus can be attributed to the tax, Suttle acknowledged it played a large role.

“Oh it wouldn’t be there,” he said. “But it wouldn’t be there also, if we hadn’t buckled down and done some of the efficiencies… like on the manpower in the fire department… the hiring freeze, not filling positions.  You have to take them all together. There’s no one thing that did anything; they worked together like pieces of a puzzle.”

Suttle said a surplus should be the goal of every budget cycle. Budgets are fluid, he said, and the restaurant tax was necessary to bring it back into balance and return the city’s AAA bond rating.

“That’s what Moody’s and Standards and Poor kept saying to us,” he said. “You don’t have real budgets… They’re not saying that anymore. We have a real 12-month budget, and we have got that balanced.”

The Mayor added the rhetoric surrounding the restaurant tax, which was a significant contributor to the recall drive to oust Suttle from office, never amounted to anything. “You had all the rhetoric of people are going to go to Council Bluffs, Papillion, and Timbuktu,” he said. “And they have not.”

Suttle said he plans to use the city’s surplus to shore up the cash reserves that were depleted after a series of tight budget cycles. Asked whether the city would consider returning the funds to taxpayers, the city’s finance director said that would be short-sighted. Pam Spaccarotella said Omaha is in a better financial position than many other cities, and it’s the long-term, strategic planning that’s helped secure that position.

Mayor Suttle’s announcement came a day before his State of the City address Friday, and just a few days before the recall election, set for Jan. 25.

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