Mayor Stothert Proposes 2017 Budget
July 20th, 2016
Mayor Jean Stothert formally submitted her 2017 City Budget to Council Members yesterday. The Mayor’s budget calls for more police on the streets, and more money to fix those streets.
When Mayor Jean Stothert took office in 2013, Omaha faced a $13 million budget deficit. In 2014, the deficit grew to $19 million.
When she presented her 2017 budget proposal to the Omaha City Council on Tuesday, Mayor Stothert said things have changed for the better.
“I am very pleased with our results over the last three years,” Stothert said. “The hard work of many has certainly paid off. Our proposed 2017 budget continues the progress we have made to spend wisely, reduce spending when possible, and to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ hard earned money.”
The Mayor wants to increase the City’s budget by 2.9 percent, bringing total appropriations to $852 million. Most of that will go to cover labor costs. The 2017 budget includes a 2 percent raise for most City workers. Total revenues increased to $916.9 million.
The Mayor’s budget also includes a proposal to add five sworn police officers in 2017. In her annexation package previously presented to the Council, Mayor Stothert proposed adding four officers. If the Mayor’s budget and annexation package are accepted and passed by the Council, in 2017 there will be 860 sworn officers on the streets; an all-time high.
Sales tax revenues are fairly flat compared to last year, but the average property valuation in the City recently went up by almost 3%. Mayor Stothert is proposing to counter that increase with a 2% drop in property taxes.
Stothert said she thought that was the best way to help the most people, instead of repealing or reducing the much-maligned restaurant tax.
Stothert said, “I did not want it to look like I was doing a token restaurant tax rate reduction, just so I could say I did it. I wanted to do something that would benefit the citizens of Omaha and not just make a political move.”
When Mayor Stothert was Councilwoman Stothert, she was adamantly opposed to the restaurant tax and voted against it.
The 2017 proposed budget adds a million dollars to the City’s Library Department budget, which was cut last year, and puts another $2 million into street resurfacing, bringing the total funds for street resurfacing to $10.8 million.
Stothert said her proposed budget addresses what she sees as longtime priorities—public safety and street repair—but it also leaves room for new priorities, like how the City will deal the emerald ash borer now that it’s in Nebraska.
Council members will spend the next few weeks reviewing the proposed budget, and will vote to accept or reject the Mayor’s proposals on August 23rd.
Two other items of note the Council discussed Tuesday were a moratorium on street reclamations and possibly expanding the restaurant tax to include food trucks as well.
Reclamation is the word used to describe the process of grinding down substandard streets that have fallen into such disrepair, patching potholes is no longer an option. There are about 300 miles of roadway in Omaha that qualify as substandard. At current spending levels, it will take about 50 years to fix them all.
The Council unanimously approved the resolution to stop grinding down old roads. Councilman Franklin Thompson said at some point though, the City may need to pass a bond issue or institute a wheel-tax to pay for all the street repairs.
“There are people out there who are making the assertion that the City should pay 100 percent to fix these roads,” Thompson said, “I doubt if the City will ever go there.”
An ordinance requiring food trucks to pay the same restaurant tax as brick and mortar establishments was also discussed.
Some on the Council are outright opposed to the restaurant tax, like Councilman Pete Festersen. But Kelly Keegan, the president of the Omaha Food Truck Association, told Council members he wouldn’t mind paying the tax, as long as food trucks are allowed to operate during peak food truck business hours, which are typically the noon hour and the late night/early morning hours.
“We would be happy to pay for it,” Keegan said, “but we really want to make sure that we’re going to get a fair shake with the ordinance that comes out that makes it fair and equitable to compete; not only downtown, but elsewhere in the City.”
The Council took no action on the ordinance. They could vote on it next week.
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