Omaha City Council Closer to Voting on Annexation
July 29th, 2015
In the midst of discussing and potentially approving Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert’s budget proposal for 2016, City Council members are also weighing the benefits and drawbacks of the Mayor’s proposed plan to annex 16 designated locations around the Omaha metro area.
At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Cassie Seagren presented the mayor’s annexation plan which would add more than 2000 acres of land to the city, including 8 parks.
Also, if all 16 proposed areas are annexed by Omaha, around 12 thousand people would be Omahans, eligible to run for office and vote in city elections.
Seagren called annexation a vital, bi-partisan tool that has allowed Omaha to avoid the fate of cities like Detroit and St. Louis “which have been boxed in by independent suburban communities while the urban core took a devastating blow and lost a significant portion of their tax base.”
Critics of the annexation plan are asking if adding more residents is a wise move, given the recent history of slow police response times in parts of the City.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said if the City goes through with the annexation plans, the residents in the affected areas would actually receive better police coverage. He said dispatching services could be streamlined.
Speaking to current police response times, Chief Schmaderer told council members the City is just now feeling the impact of the additional officers hired last year.
“Remember there is a 9 month lag time,” Schmaderer said, “because it takes that long to train them, put them through field training etc. So you saw in 2013 and 2014 an increase in response time, but 2015 we’ve seen a decrease in those high priority calls, and the second tier calls.”
City Council President Ben Gray is, up to this point, the only Council Member to speak out against the annexation plan. He said in addition to police response times, he has concerns with the work loads of other city departments, specifically the Parks Department.
“As I drive this city, I am appalled at the way many of the medians look across this city. I’ve seen medians all over this city that have weeds as tall as I am,” Gray said.
He continued, “that ought to be unacceptable to all of us, because I can’t believe we want this city to look like that. I’ve been the only one on record in opposition to this annexation package, and I know Dr. Thompson [wants] a 7-0 vote, I’m not there yet. I’m warming a little bit, but there are some things I really need to hear first.”
Council members won’t make a decision on whether to approve the Mayor’s annexation package until next month.
Adding new areas to Omaha was not the only thing Council members discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. They also voted to give their future selves a raise. A 2 percent bump in pay goes into effect in 2019 and will increase an additional 2 percent per year through 2022.
Councilman Franklin Thompson said based on what he’s observed during his time in office, the pay increase is much deserved.
“There are individuals on this Council, and no names have to be said, but this is their job. They don’t have another job,” Thompson explained, “and I happen to know they put in long, long, long hours. There are individuals on this Council who really deserve this very small increase, and they’ve put in the time and the hours for that.”
Omaha City Council members currently make $37,378 a year. With the approved hike in pay, by 2022, they’ll make $40,459 a year
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