Two big snow storms in one month have left a big mess and clean up around the Metro. They've also caused a lot of broken snow removal equipment, an overage in the city snow budget for 200 and a public works department pushed to the brink. The mayor seemed to point a finger Wednesday at what, or who, is to blame.
At the Omaha Public Works Central Garage, it sometimes takes a little heat from a welding torch to get a city snow truck back on the frozen streets. In this case, it's a snow blower bought in 1975. Even the newer models in Omaha's fleet are old and keeping the city's central garage full.
Marc McCoy with Omaha Public Works says about one snow plow, “it is starting to show its age. It's got some rust on it. One of the problems that we see like on this particular application is getting parts for it. Some of these parts are getting harder to come by once these trucks get older."
Parts for the city's snow fleet aren't the only things hard to come by, so is funding for the entire public works department.
Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle says, “we're minus six mechanics to get these trucks going and nearly half of our fleet is down. We don't have a replacement schedule for nearly any of this equipment, shame on us."
At a press conference Wednesday, Mayor Suttle seemed to spread the blame to many, including taxpayers, saying it was taxpayers who did not want an entertainment tax.
“It's a great philosophy to say no new taxes but it doesn't work, it doesn't work, it has not worked. We're in this dilemma over a 12 to 15 year period of trying to follow that philosophy," says Suttle.
Omaha City Councilwoman Jean Stothert points to the fact there was a raise in property taxes, and she says in a down economy, the city must just plow ahead and live within its means. "It really shows that we've been trying to run efficiently and we've been cutting departments, but you certainly can't blame the taxpayers and say because you didn't want your taxes up, this is what we get."
Suttle says he wants to revisit the city's cash flow problem early in 2010 and talk again about that entertainment tax or another revenue source.
Mayor Suttle also cites a change to the state gasoline tax as another reason why we’re short on the snow removal budget. He says the city estimates it has lost about two million dollars due to a restructuring of that program in 2009 by state legislators.