Five of Omaha's mayoral candidates generally played it safe Friday during a packed lunch forum at the Omaha Press Club.
The forum, sponsored by the press club and League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha, featured candidates' discussions on their crime reduction, union contract and economic development platforms.
Some questions also addressed neighborhood-centered subjects such as the city's trash removal program and plans to redevelop the Crossroads Mall area.
Candidates didn't rush to endorse the idea of enacting a separate fee for trash removal, instead of using city funds for the job.
Such a change has been floated before and would require state authorization, Mayor Jim Suttle and other candidates said.
“What I'd rather do at this time is work on the collaborative effort we have between the city and the county,” Suttle said. “We have a resolution of intent to focus on revamping our entire waste collection, focusing on a mammoth redesign of our recycling program for the entire county in a joint effort between the city and the county.”
Former City Council member Dan Welch said any new fee would come atop already boosted tax rates.
“If we decide to make a change and we put payment in the city taxpayers' hands, it's an additional tax on them,” he said. “And I think I've had about enough of new taxes.”
Since residents already help fund trash collection with their tax dollars, Council member Jean Stothert said, the city needs to “make sure we deliver highest-quality services for the least cost we can to the citizens.”
State Sen. Brad Ashford said a franchise waste collection system for commercial users could be created to generate city revenue. He also suggested his city-county merger proposal could have effects on trash collection.
“I think if we were to consolidate city and county government, garbage collection and waste collection countywide would make sense,” he said. “There's an economy of scale, it could be uniform across the county, and opportunities for innovative waste collection could be enhanced.”
Businessman Dave Nabity said he would oppose new taxes but said city waste collection needed to be overhauled.
“I don't see that Omaha is getting out of the '70s in a lot of different ways, and one of those ways is how we're handing garbage collection,” he said. “We need to bring the best practices of other cities to Omaha.”
In June, the City Council unanimously approved changes to the city's trash collection contract with Deffenbaugh Industries that allow year-round yard-waste collection but also can cost the city up to $1.1 million annually to offset the company's rising fuel costs.
The contract, which originally cost $10.4 million annually and is adjusted for inflation, extends through 2015. The city has the option to renew the deal for five years.
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