Omaha City Council Approves Annexation, Talks Budget with Public


August 12th, 2015

Omaha City Council members hear from citizens during a public hearing over the Mayor's proposed 2016 budget. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

Omaha City Council members hear from citizens during a public hearing over the Mayor’s proposed 2016 budget. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

It took a little more than 10 minutes to add around 14 thousand residents to the City of Omaha. Council Members met Tuesday to vote on Mayor Jean Stothert’s most recent annexation plan.

When Omaha City Council members sat down for Tuesday’s meeting, there were 51 other items on the agenda before the Council was scheduled to discuss annexation. But Councilman Franklin Thompson didn’t want to wait that long, and made a motion to bump the items dealing with annexation up to the front.

A little more than 10 minutes later, 16 areas around Omaha were officially made a part of the City. With the addition of around 14 thousand new residents, Omaha is also now one of the 40 largest cities in the country.

Councilman Chris Jerram voted against annexing all but two of the proposed areas, saying he thinks the City is growing faster than its services can keep up.

“It’s my assessment that when we struggle to provide the library services, when we struggle to keep the streets surfaced in an adequate manner, when we struggle to get the trash picked up, when we are constantly assessing the police needs and whether they’re adequate for a city of our size,” Jerram said, “perhaps we ought to take a slow, cautious approach before we expand and take on a whole lot more people.”

District 5 Councilman Rich Pahls will see his district grow with the passage of the annexation package. He said after hearing from Mayor Jean Stothert and Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, he has no doubts the annexation will benefit the city.

“I think it’s just like anything, there’s going to be a little bit of adjustment,” Pahls explained. “Most of my district has been annexed the last few years, and initially there’s a little bit of a question [about potential problems] but most of the time people are tickled once it happens. We do have some mess ups every now and again on things such as trash pick-up, but I see us really trying to make that work.”

Minutes after the Council approved her annexation package, Mayor Stothert released a statement that said with their decision, the Council “increased services in all parts of the city; including more police officers and fire protection,  more street repair and maintenance and more park improvements. Annexation benefits the entire city and positions Omaha for a strong future.”

The Council recessed for several hours, meeting again at 7pm to hear from the public concerning the Mayor’s proposed 2016 budget.

Vicki Pratt spoke in favor of demolishing more condemned buildings. She told Council members it’s about more than clearing eyesores.

“It’s also a safety issue in the neighborhood. A lot of the times those houses turn into crack houses. Kids get in there and there’s holes in the walls, there’s holes in the floor and it’s a very dangerous situation and it definitely impacts the property values of that neighborhood,” Pratt said.

The public’s budget concerns ranged in topic from truancy prevention to one man’s desire to take police officers out of public schools and hire private security guards instead.

The majority of people who attended Tuesday’s meeting though, were there in support of the Omaha Public Library and its branches.

The Mayor’s budget increased the library’s budget to $14.3 million dollars in 2016. But library officials said they need another $850,000. Without the money, officials said the library would consider reducing hours or closing a branch.

Mike Williams told Council members the City has been on a downward slide in funding the library.

“It’s such a problem that the Library Journal, which is a publication about libraries, unfortunately and notoriously put us on a short list of six cities who are underfunding our libraries,” Williams said. “This isn’t the kind of list that Omaha wants to find ourselves on. We don’t want to be on the lists of cities underfunding the public libraries. That’s not the kind of place we want to be.”

Doug Kagan is President of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, a conservative group with concerns about what they call wasteful government spending. Kagan and other members of NTF, wearing “Team Jean” stickers in support of Mayor Jean Stothert, urged Council members to pass the budget as is.

“We believe that this budget sets the groundwork for future property tax stabilization or reduction, eventual elimination of the detested restaurant tax, and places the city on a permanent, steady financial foundation,” Kagan said.

More than 20 people spoke during the public hearing on the proposed 2016 budget. Council members won’t vote on it, however, until August 25th.

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