Omaha officials take 2012 budget to the public

Omaha, NE – Questions about the impact of flooding on the city budget, privatization of some city services, and budget growth faced city officials at the first forum on the 2012 budget.

City Department leaders presented Omaha's $730 million dollar 2012 budget plan at the forum Wednesday night in Elkhorn. The 2012 budget is ten percent larger than this year's spending plan.

Public Works Director Bob Stubbe says that department's budget will increase significantly in 2012 because of the combined sewer overflow project. The city plans to hire 22 more civilian employees in 2012, with 14 of them working on the CSO project. The combined sewer overflow project is projected to cost one-point-seven billion dollars over 15 years.

Among the new items in Omaha's budget is a Park Safety Division. Parks Director Melinda Pearson says it'll involve hiring a security advisor, who'll assist with training and assessment. They'll also work closely with the Omaha Police Department to ensure the safety of park employees and the public.

Omaha's Police and Fire Departments will have fewer staff next fiscal year if the 2012 budget proposal is approved. It accounts for nine fewer police officers and 24 fewer firefighters. Police Chief Alex Hayes says his department is trying to balance its workload with efficiency. 90 percent of the Police Department's budget is personnel costs.

Fire Chief Mike McDonnell says in spite of his department's budget cuts and staff reductions, Omahans shouldn't be worried about their safety. "The Omaha Fire Department over the last two years has saved 11 million dollars, cut five point four million approximately, out of our budget. And when I tell people that, the citizens ask has their safety been reduced. No, their safety has not been reduced."

A second budget forum is Thursday evening at Westside High School. Forums are also next Monday at North High School and Wednesday at South High School. The Omaha City Council will vote on the 2012 budget August 23rd.