Ward I hopefuls talk budget

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Posted: Saturday, September 14, 2013 12:00 am

Bellevue’s assistant city administrator, its city attorney, its two code inspectors and its parks superintendent all found themselves targets Sept. 3 as the four men who will contest the Oct. 15 Ward I City Council election weighed in on the budget debate.

Republicans Dave Compton and Steve Carmichael, Democrat Steve Dawes and Libertarian Michael Knebel were among roughly 100 residents who attended a special hearing on the 2013-15 budget. The candidates were among 16 people who testified.

Compton, a member of the Bellevue Planning Commission, said the budget contained too many cuts to the city’s public safety functions and too few to upper management expenditures.

“Public safety is worth fighting for,” Compton said. “I see a lot of cuts in the streets department, the fire department, the police department, but I don’t see a whole lot coming from the top of City Hall.”

He said the time has come to assess whether the city should abandon its longstanding practice of contracting with private attorneys for legal services, and instead hire a full-time legal staff.

Compton also suggested that the city’s hiring of an assistant city administrator last year should be revisited.

“Do we need the assistant city administrator position?” he asked. “You’re talking about a lot of money lying there which could keep a whole lot of people in Bellevue working right now that would not take away from our day-to-day operations.”

Carmichael, who served as Bellevue’s chief building official for 17 years, joined Compton’s call for a close look at the city attorney and the assistant city administrator positions.

“We’ve had one city administrator in this city, and I don’t believe we need two,” he said.

In addition, Carmichael said, the city’s two code inspector positions might be eliminated and their duties assigned to the planning department. He also said the city could do away with the parks superintendent position.

He warned the city needs to address the looming fiscal problem of establishing a paid, full-time fire department.

Bellevue currently pays less than $3 million dollars for fire services that cost almost $11 million in the similarly sized city of Council Bluffs, Iowa, he said.

“That’s a reality we have to face somewhere down the road,” he said.

Dawes, a wastewater operator with the City of Omaha, stressed the need to avoid spending cuts that would compromise public safety.

“Do we really want to reduce the number of police officers on the street at a time when calls are increasing?” he said. “Bellevue has already cut police positions.”

Dawes said proposals to contract with private companies for services such as snow removal would result in poorer performance and that the solution lay in higher fees and taxes combined with “reasonable” cuts in spending.

He also urged council members to seek a change in state law that would permit Olde Towne residents and businesses to contract with the Metropolitan Utilities District for natural gas instead of Black Hills Energy. That change, he asserted, would reduce natural gas costs by 20 percent and deliver an important boost to area businesses.

Knebel, who works in the Active Trader division of TD Ameritrade, took a contrary position to Dawes on the issue of contracting out city services.

“I applaud contracting out,” he said. “My experience in the business world is that when you encourage competition in the free market you get positive results.”

He said significant savings awaited the city if it harnessed the competitive power of a free market.

Knebel said the city is looking too hard at tax increases and spending cuts instead of creatively using the power of private sponsorships to fund such activities as youth sports and the farmers market.

He also said the city should work with the Bellevue Public Schools to provide library services and to give schoolchildren an opportunity to perform public service work that could save city dollars.

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