Omaha City Council Approves Mayor’s Budget
August 26th, 2015
Itâ€™s been a little more than a month since Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert presented her 2016 budget to the City Council. Before finally voting on it at Tuesdayâ€™s Council meeting, members first decided the fate of two budget amendments proposed by council members.
The first dealt with library funding. The Mayorâ€™s budget includes a 2.7 percent increase in library funding, but Library Board President Mike Meyer said thatâ€™s not enough to keep all of the libraryâ€™s facilities open, and could mean cutting hours of operation at most if not all branches.
As a compromise, Council member Pete Festersen co-authored an amendment with Council President Ben Gray to give the library an additional $250,000
â€œWithout some additional allocation of funds, weâ€™re most likely looking at a reduction of library hours at our branches, at almost every branch, between 8 hours and 19 hours a week,â€ Festersen said, â€œand thatâ€™s not something I support. I hope my colleagues can support this alternative so that doesnâ€™t happen.â€
Funding for the library has been a controversial issue during this current budget discussion, as itâ€™s been for the past two years. Council Member Aimee Melton has gone on record several times in support of Mayor Stothertâ€™s budget. Tuesdayâ€™s meeting was no different.
â€œThe mayor has given the library a 2.7% increase in their budget, and I guess I really donâ€™t appreciate the other side when they use fear tactics to say that getting a 2.7% increase would result in a 20% reduction,â€ Melton said, â€œbecause I donâ€™t believe that thatâ€™s the case.â€
Council Member Chris Jerram took issue with Meltonâ€™s use of the term â€œfear tacticsâ€, and said his support for increasing library funding comes after listening to a library trustee say closing outdated branches is one way to operate within the Mayorâ€™s proposed budget. Councilwoman Melton told Jerram he was taking those remarks out of context.
The amendment to fund the library an additional $250,000 in 2016 failed by a vote of 4-3. According to the Cityâ€™s charter, budget items require a super majority, or five affirmative votes, to pass.
The other amendment to the mayorâ€™s 2016 budget dealt with funding for the Cityâ€™s Public Works Department, which handles street and road repair. A recent independent study found Omaha is under-funding road repairs and new road construction by as much at $50 million a year.
Council President Ben Gray has said multiple times poverty and road repair are his top priorities. Tuesday, he went further and said some streets in his district have never been repaired.
â€œWhat we need to say to some of our constituents, especially what I need to say in my district is either one of two things is going to happen,â€ Gray explained, â€œeither one, weâ€™re going to bite the bullet and do something necessary to get these streets done; or two, we need to tell people and be honest with them that weâ€™re never going to get your street. And that is a very real possibility that we are never going to get your street. Never, the way weâ€™re going now.â€
The budget amendment under consideration by Council members would have allocated almost $1 million more towards street repair, but would have been balanced in the budget by increasing the estimated revenues from sales tax.
Like the first amendment concerning library funding, the second budget amendment also failed to receive the required 5 vote super majority to pass.
Council Member Franklin Thompson said in the future, if the people of Omaha truly want better libraries and streets, theyâ€™ll need to be prepared to pay for them.
â€œToo many times, Iâ€™ll get a call and Iâ€™ll hear â€˜I want my streets fixed and I want my libraries open, but I donâ€™t want to pay for it. Boy, thatâ€™s getting kind of old with me,â€ Thompson said, â€œand I think my colleagues are feeling the same way. So, weâ€™re a little on the conservative side this year, and next year weâ€™re going to have to be on the creative side, and that creation is going to have to include your input and your willingness to dig a little deeper.â€
The Council ultimately voted to adopt Mayor Stothertâ€™s 2016 budget by a vote of 5-2. Council Member Chris Jerram and Council President Ben Gray cast the two opposing votes.
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