OMAHA, NE – The Omaha City Council held the public hearing for the proposed budget Tuesday night at 7pm, August 13, 2013. The City’s Legislative Chamber was full of residents who wanted to speak or listen to arguments and comments being made on the budget.
The Sustainability office – Omaha is losing the ECO-Omaha sustainability office which managed pro environment issues for the city. The office was created in 2009, when the federal government gave out hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus money. Since 2009, Omaha’s sustainability office has received nearly 15-million dollars from the Department of Energy. Members of the Verdis Group spoke at the hearing and made a strong case for keeping the Sustainability Office. According to the Verdis blog
Since its formation in 2009, ECO-Omaha has been working on and achieved the following (list not all-inclusive):
Implementation of several energy efficiency projects, which reduced municipal energy consumption by 16% (from 2009–2012) and resulted in roughly $775,000 per year in avoided costs. These projects also reduced the City’s municipal greenhouse gas emissions by 13%, equivalent to removing 3,125 cars from the road.
Earned and implemented a Department of Energy grant to build an energy upgrade market in Omaha through a program called reEnergize*. The result: over 1,300 energy upgrades for Omaha residents, which should result in collective savings approaching $1 million. Yup, you read that right…$1 million.
Led the completion of the City’s first Comprehensive Energy Management Plan**, which provides the framework and implementation strategy for effectively managing the City’s use and supply of energy.
The Verdis Blog also provides a strong case for keeping the Sustainability Office active.
In a 2011 City Practice Brief, the National League of Cities highlighted four cities that have leveraged sustainability into economic development. The first sentence of the brief read, “Sustainability is a fundamental component of building a strong community, not only in terms of the physical environment, but also for economic prosperity.” Does anyone know a politician that doesn’t like economic prosperity?
Investments in these kinds of positions pay for themselves. To date, Omaha’s team has brought in $15 million in grants. As mentioned earlier, annual avoided costs are in the $750,000 range, and Omahans across the city are benefitting from recent upgrades through reEnergize. Seems like a reasonable Return on Investment to me.
The City of Omaha’s budget and operations are huge (2014 budget = $800 million in revenue), and far smaller businesses have dedicated – no, invested – in sustainability FTEs. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with Omaha’s municipal operations are nearly 100,000 metric tons of CO2e. That’s the equivalent to the annual emissions of 20,800 passenger vehicles. There is simply a lot to manage, and if an entity as big as the City doesn’t have someone dedicated to limiting its environmental impact in a strategic way, that spells trouble.
The vast majority of Fortune 500 firms invest resources (time, money and people) into sustainability programs. These firms typically don’t make hasty decisions. Sustainability is good for business. Could it be the case that it’s also good for cities?
Sticking with the “everyone else is doing it” theme; a quick survey of Omaha’s peer cities shows that most do have sustainability coordinators of some sort, although we were unable to determine how many are grant funded versus paid for via general fund dollars.
If the Office is successful, emissions go down. When emissions go down, the air is cleaner. When people breathe cleaner air, they’re healthier. Omaha is currently ranked 142nd out of 182 on a healthy city index; a little clean air couldn’t hurt.
An organization called Omaha Together One Community had its members speak at the Budget Hearing to call on the City Council to fund a 10th Housing Inspector, as well as provide funds for demotion of buildings which are a danger to their communities in Omaha and a call for an Omaha Land Bank.
The Fire Budget was also a hot topic. Fire Union President Steve LeClair opposed the budget, specifically how it relates to public safety. “The prospect of laying off firefighters, closing a station, shutting down apparatus, should scare the hell out of us,” LeClair said. Much of the fire budget battle is being fought in the courts over a temporary injunction over the budget. On Aug 18th, Douglas County District Court Judge James Gleason ruled that an injunction premature because the budget has not yet been approved by the city council. The goes on to mention, “The evidence before the Court shows that the Defendant Mayor of the City of Omaha has proposed a budget which arguably could have a deleterious effect on the safety of firefighters and therefore may be a breach of the contract (between the union and the city),” I believe the most legal solution the Union and the City can agree on is starting renegotiations on the Fire Contract. The Mayor, the City Council nor the Union cannot break the contract unilaterally. They have to follow the contract or renegotiate in good faith, and they have to follow the provisions laid out in the contract they all agreed on.
One local organization and blog, Forward Equality, commented on the $23 million in cuts for Public Works and the Human Rights and Relations, department, most notably $52,000 in cuts for Civil Rights Investigations. Forward Equality State Field Director said of the cuts, “Forward Equality believes that the Human Resources, Human Rights and Relations, and the Public Works Departments are vital departments to the City of Omaha and basically all Cities in the United States. Cuts to these departments will only hurt the City of Omaha if not done in responsible manors. We especially believe that any and all cuts to the Human Rights and Relations Department should not be made because the department is already working on a skeleton staff and the department budget is already very small, therefore, any and all cuts to this department will be dangerous to the department’s ability to function.”
Cuts to Public Works $23 million
Cuts to Civil Rights Investigations
City Elected Reps Contacts – Please contact your City of Omaha Officials, tell you oppose these cuts!
Mayor Jean Stothert, jean.stothert@@ci.omaha.ne.us and 402-444-5000
District 1: Pete Festersen, email@example.com and 402-444-5527
District 2: Ben Gray firstname.lastname@example.org and 402-444-5524
District 3: Chris Jerram, email@example.com and 402-444-5525
District 4: Garry Gernandt, firstname.lastname@example.org and 402-444-5522
District 5: Rich Pahls, email@example.com and 402-444-5528
District 6: Franklin Thompson, firstname.lastname@example.org and 402-444-5523
District 7: Aimee Melton, email@example.com and 402-444-5526