Council rejects pay hikes, approves new spending

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August 28th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle’s proposed budget for 2013 was approved by the Omaha City Council Tuesday afternoon. The council proposed several resolutions to increase or restore funding to city projects, and rejected the Mayor’s proposed pay hikes for city staff.

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Mayor Suttle’s proposed $789 million budget was presented to the Omaha City Council in July. On Tuesday, council members had their chance to vote on Suttle’s recommendations. Council members praised the fact that the Mayor did not include any new property taxes, despite the seven percent increase over last year’s appropriations budget.

Jean Stothert voted against six resolutions to increase spending for various city programs. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

But Councilwoman Jean Stothert said while she appreciated some of the “well-intentioned” resolutions proposed, they were too expensive and too confident in projected revenues.

Stothert, a Republican who is running for the mayor’s office in 2013, voted “no” in six out of fourteen resolutions. “I will not support resolutions that increase spending,” Stothert said. “Especially by assuming that the city will collect more property taxes than is already planned, regardless of how well-intended the purposes of re-directing the funding is.”

The Council did approve all but one resolution, though not always unanimously. Conservative members like Stothert and Councilman Franklin Thompson voted against a majority of the spending increases. Most, however, said they saw the resolutions as “investments” that would save the city money in the long run. One of those resolutions injected a $70,000 increase in anti-truancy programs like those run by Building Better Futures.

Franklin Thompson voted against most of the spending resolutions, but supported one to help finance anti-truancy efforts. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

Councilman Ben Gray, a Democrat, supported the measure. “Addressing truancy at the front end and getting people in school and hopefully graduated,” Gray said, “saves us significantly more dollars at the back end if we have to house them in correctional facilities and other places.”

Thompson ultimately supported that resolution. “This is one of those where I would like to vote against it,” Thompson said. “But I wear two hats. I’m an elected official, of course, but I’m also an educator. I’ve seen these programs work, and this is one I’m going to support because I believe the city has to have an investment in young people.”

Also on the docket was a $200,000 increase for the demolition of hazardous and condemned housing. Over 600 homes and commercial locations are currently on the waiting list. That money would fund demolitions for roughly 85 homes in the metro. Council President Thomas Mulligan cited potential injuries for his support of the increase. “One personal injury, we could have one firefighter, we could have one police officer, severely injured…inside one of these properties,” Mulligan said, “and that would eat up that $200,000 in a hot minute.”

Pete Festersen introduced an amendment to restore funding to a planned street renovation project for Benson. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

Several firefighters have been injured this year fighting fires in vacant homes.

Two amendments from Democratic Councilmen Pete Festersen and Chris Jerram brought most of the meeting’s spectators. One amendment would move a projection date up from 2018 to 2015 for Benson’s West Gateway Project on 63rd and Northwest Radial Streets and also restore $750,000 removed in the Mayor’s proposed budget for the project. However, Festersen said the amendment turned out to be unnecessary. “My understanding is the administration supports reinstating this money,” Festersen said. “So, at this point, you could consider this a friendly amendment.”

The second amendment restored $450,000 for the downtown 16th redevelopment project, down from $1.5 million originally allotted. The council passed both amendments unanimously.

Though not unanimous, the council did vote down one resolution which would have cut designated funds to cover increasing employee healthcare costs.

A statement released by the Mayor’s office said Suttle is pleased about the increased spending in promoting tourism of the city, demolishing hazardous buildings and street maintenance. Suttle went on to say that he will honor the council’s denial of pay increases for four city officials but hopes the “action doesn’t discourage professionals from the private sector…from considering positions in city government in the future.”

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