Mayor Stothert Led her Final Town Hall Meeting of 2017
Jean Stothert became the 51st mayor of the city of Omaha in 2013. She is the first female figure elected into office in the state of Nebraska. Her four goals to make a city run smoothly are public safety, managing the city budget, job growth and economic development. She also hopes to help improve the taxpayer experience.
Stothert’s hope is that every citizen’s interaction with top government officials is pleasant, and that each individual living here can receive top-of-the-line customer service throughout the metropolitan area.
Her town hall meetings were very organized, focusing on issues that everyone should be informed about. Omaha Police Chief, Todd Schmaderer, and the Omaha Fire Department Chief, Dan Olsen, were just a few of the city’s officials in attendance at UNO’s Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center on Nov. 13 and Hillside Elementary School on Nov. 16.
Public safety is a huge issue that was addressed. Omaha will be the first city in the country to have full body cameras for police with automatic Tasers that will signal the body camera to begin operation, which are estimated to be worth $1.5 million. Stothert budgeted for 900 police officers in 2019, a city high record with each officer being budgeted $100,000.
“Last year we had 29 homicides, the year before 50. I’m glad to see a decline for a city of this size,” said Stothert.
Complaints about excessive force with law enforcement have gone down. It’s the mayor’s responsibility to keep each department be fairly budgeted. The Fire Department has stayed within their budget and the class of 2018 will graduate 20 more firefighters. Medic 78 is back in service again.
“When I became mayor in 2013, the budget was $13 million short by the end of the year. I had six months to balance it out,” said Stothert.
Every bit of the surplus in 2016 is used in 2017. The budget is available to view online, and the mayor is trying to spend the taxpayer’s money wisely. Her projections for 2018 are that property tax will be at $63 million. Sales tax revenue is 61 percent of the budget. The total levy for the city is 47.9 pennies. Restaurant tax brings in $43 million a year and about 30 percent is paid by out-of-town guests. Although she wasn’t a strong advocate for the restaurant tax and didn’t vote for it when she was on the city council, it’s proven to be lucrative for Omaha.
Stothert believes in a real aggressive annexation package. Because Omaha continues to grow, annexation helps bring in more revenue for the city.
“I truly believe this is good for the city. Annexations broaden your tax base. The city of Omaha is growing and that is a good thing” said Stothert.
Property tax rate reduction would best serve the citizens of Omaha. $12 million is being given to road surfacing in the new year. To pay for all unimproved streets, it would cost about $300 million, an astronomical amount that is very unrealistic.
Stothert said, “I hear it every day, a complaint about our streets. We are putting high priority on roads right now and have completed 44 projects this summer alone.”
Omaha has about 300 lane miles of unimproved streets, and those that meet city standards have functioning storm drains, curbs and gutters.
Omaha is the only city that by state law, cannot charge individuals for trash collection. Waste Management bought out Definbaugh and the new waste trucks need to be powered by natural gas, not diesel, to help save the environment. It costs the city $20 million a year to pick up trash, yard waste and recyclables. All of the glass that is thrown out goes down to Kansas City.
Stothert wants to give citizens two 96 gallon bins, one for trash and the other for yard waste. She would like to start out with that a size of bin and then have an exchange program for individuals who need different sizes. Wet paper in the green bins that gets damp from rain or water is considered contaminated, and gets thrown into the landfill.
“We don’t have a job shortage in Omaha, just a labor shortage,” said Stothert at her last town hall meeting of the 2017 year.
Heartland Work Force Solutions helps get juveniles off the streets and into a working environment. The organization is given half a million dollars a year to help people find jobs and get trained for the skills that they need to succeed. Schmaderer credits the Step-Up Summer Job Program in helping lower crime rates and keeping youth out of trouble.
“It’s worth the city to invest in getting the unemployed trained in their areas to get the jobs that they need. We have a low unemployment rate in the state of Nebraska,” said Stothert.
There are three re-entry programs to help those getting out of prison get the jobs that they want, so that they can become productive citizens to society once again.
To help improve the taxpayer experience, the mayor uses Facebook, Twitter and her website as social media platforms to interact with those around town. There are only two people with access to her social media profiles: Stothert and Carrie Murphy, her deputy chief of staff for communications. The mayor’s hotline is 444-5555. She would like to develop advisory groups by executive order to find out issues that her and the staff need to know about.
Stothert believes in a transparent government, one that runs smoothly and is open to hearing from the people. She is a listener to those that she serves and will try to help solve their problems in an efficient manner.
This assignment was for my news writing and reporting class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.0