Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert announced Thursday she has vetoed four budget amendments passed by the City Council, citing the need for saving, not spending.
The mayor vetoed the amendment to create a “Complete Streets Active Living Manager” to be employed in the Public Works Department. The amendment for the $60,000 position was proposed by Councilman Chris Jerram to replace the current Bicycle-Pedestrian Coordinator, which will be eliminated at the end of the year. “It is unnecessary to create and fund a new position," said Mayor Stothert. "There is a vacant position in the Planning Department that is already budgeted in 2015. The person we choose will have experience with all modes of transportation and well-established relationships in the community."
The amendment to fund exhibits at the Great Plains Black History Museum with $40,000 was also vetoed. The amendment was proposed by Councilman Ben Gray. The mayor pointed to the ongoing disagreement over control and management of the museum as well as other available funding sources provided by the city, including the "turn-back tax" (10 percent of funds received by the city from the state each year are distributed to areas with a high concentration of poverty). Over the last three years, the museum has received more than $32,000 through the turn-back tax.
The mayor vetoed Jerram’s amendment to spend $50,000 on a contract for sustainability consulting, noting the Planning Department’s sustainability programs are evident in current and planned projects, including development of a Complete Streets policy, planning for mass transit improvements, ensuring neighborhood connectivity through street and trail connections and assisting LiveWell and B-Cycle expand their bike rental stations.
Also, the Community Development division develops garden sites on city-owned land with neighborhood associations and local gardening groups, operates an energy conservation grant program for lower income homeowners and landlords renting to lower income tenants, a rehabilitation program to retain older housing and an infill housing program for older neighborhoods. The building and development team works with the State Energy Office to update the Omaha and State Energy Code.
The mayor also vetoed an additional $175,000 appropriation to the Omaha Public Library for materials. The 2015 library budget is slightly up from 2014 (0.3 percent), including the Wage Adjustment Account. As with all departments, the director has the ability to spend more on materials as long as he decreases spending on other line items.
“Each of these budget amendments takes money out of the contingency reserve fund," said Mayor Stothert. "It is my goal to increase that fund and demonstrate to our bond raters that we can pay our debt and build up a healthy cash reserve. Unexpected revenue should be saved, not spent."
The only amendment returned without a veto will add eight additional police recruits to the recruit class already scheduled to begin in 2015 ($341,701), additional funds for street repair and resurfacing ($200,000) and increasing the contingency reserve fund ($141,701). This amendment was proposed by Council President Pete Festersen.
“Public safety is my number one priority," added the mayor. "With the graduation of 36 new police recruits just this past week, we are no longer at a “10-year low,” but close to full authorized strength. Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and I plan to increase the number of sworn officers to 825 in 2015 and 840 in 2016. The City Council’s actions will not increase the sworn strength beyond our goal of 840 officers in 2016. It simply allows the chief and me to move even faster to achieve our goals.”
The current plan is to begin a recruit class in the summer of 2015 and a second class in December 2015. The costs included in Festersen’s amendment will be covered by the unexpected estimated increase in Omaha’s total property value, resulting in an additional $800,000 in the General Fund.
As a matter of procedure, Mayor Stothert also vetoed the 2015 budget as amended by the City Council, which can vote to override the vetoes at its next scheduled meeting on Tuesday.