City Council approves more road repairs


July 27th, 2016

The Omaha City Council meets Tuesdays at 2pm. (Photo by Ryan Robertson)

The Omaha City Council meets Tuesdays at 2pm. (Photo by Ryan Robertson)

During their regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting, Omaha City Council members approved work to fix roads in three parts of the City. The improvements will cost around three-quarters of a million dollars. The City is splitting that cost with some residents.

City Council President Ben Gray began Tuesday’s meeting with a moment of silence for Clara Bender and Sam Foltz. Bender was killed in a house explosion Monday afternoon in Benson. Sam Foltz was the punter for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He was killed in an auto-accident over the weekend in Wisconsin.

When Council members took up their regular agenda, the majority of their time was spent discussing street repairs and Mayor Jean Stothert’s 2016 Annexation Package.

On the subject of street repairs; before the Council Tuesday were three resolutions authorizing payment for replacing the blacktop in several road maintenance districts in different areas of the City.

A relatively new practice from the Mayor’s office has been to pay for up to half the costs of replacing the blacktop when a road maintenance district is created, the other half is assessed to affected property owners.

Of the three districts the Council dealt with Tuesday, a road maintenance district located  around South 97th Street and Rockbrook Road, just south of Happy Hollow Country Club, required the most money for repairs; more than $520,000.

Howard Kaslow lives in the area and led the charge to create the road maintenance district, which includes more than 100 homes. Kaslow told Council members in the 26 years he’s owned his home, the roads have never been repaved.

Kaslow said, “In the ten and a half months since we filed our petitions to form this road maintenance district, the streets have further deteriorated to the point where it is truly a public safety concern for automobiles, pedestrians, and kids on their bicycles. It is dangerous. We need to get this construction completed this fall before we get into another winter.”

 Kathleen Mitchell also lives in the area, and initially signed the petition to form a road maintenance district last year. But at Tuesday’s meeting, she spoke in opposition to funding the repairs. Mitchell said simply replacing the blacktop is a temporary fix, and won’t address the drainage issues in her neighborhood

Mitchell said, “It’s a very informal type of road. It is very dangerous because of the potholes and the irregularities in the street. There are no curbs, and there’s absolutely no drainage. What our neighbors have done over the years as a temporizing measure is to put culverts underneath their driveways, which during a downpour, diverts water into our property which has caused a great deal of destruction and damage in our garage.”

 Mitchell told Council members the proposed fixes would not bring the roads up to current City standards, which include curbs and storm drains. Councilman Chris Jerram agreed.

Jerram said, “It seems as though we’re not proceeding in a very careful and deliberate fashion with sound policy decisions. It’s piecemeal, and it’s just not very thought out. In the end, it’s just going to lead to greater frustration.”

 Jerrram said the City is setting what could be a tenuous precedent by paying up to 50 percent of the cost to replace blacktop in road maintenance districts, and that practice could become policy.

Cassie Paben with the Mayor’s office responded by telling the Council the administration is working on an over-arching policy to bring the 300 miles of substandard roads in Omaha up to current specifications, and that the policy should be done by the end of the year.

The Council unanimously approved all three resolutions concerning road repairs.

Also on Tuesday were the public hearings for the Mayor’s 2016 annexation package, which identified seven areas to be annexed.

Paben told Council members the annexation would add a little more than 6000 people to the City’s population, and increase Omaha’s valuation by $456 million.

Paben said, “Valuation is important, as this Fall the Mayor and other City officials will meet with bond raters, and one of the items they look at is [Omaha’s] valuation growth and [is Omaha] maintaining a positive growth to be able to look upon favorably as we look at our bond ratings?”

The Council took no action Tuesday on the Mayor’s annexation package.

The Council also voted to layover an ordinance which would extend the City’s 2.5 percent tax on brick and mortar restaurants to food trucks as well. Councilman Pete Festersen was not at Tuesday’s meeting. Councilman Gerry Gernandt proposed the layover and said an item of such importance deserves the vote of the full Council.

A separate ordinance regulating food truck operations is expected to be before the Council in the next 30-45 days.

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