Omaha city leaders will soon make their final decisions on the city’s $1 billion budget. As they deliberate, they should bear in mind that maintaining proper fiscal discipline is important. So is transparency about valuations and the city tax rate.
On the positive side, the city has reduced its property tax rate twice during Mayor Jean Stothert’s time in office, going from 49.92 cents per $100 of valuation in 2014 to the present 47.92 cents. For the new budget, Stothert proposes to increase general funding spending for city departments by about 2.2%, which is below the projected 3.4% increase in city revenues.
Omaha leaders should be upfront with taxpayers, however, that even though the city’s property tax rate would remain unchanged under the new budget, increased valuations are expected to give the city a revenue boost. For 2020, that extra revenue is expected to total about $11.3 million.
That’s based on an estimated average 6.65% increase in city property valuations from the Douglas County assessor. That translates into higher taxes for a portion of city property owners.
No question, some major public needs have put pressure on the new budget. No. 1 is the much-debated trash collection issue. The council aims to vote on the matter Tuesday after holding a public hearing on supplemental yard waste proposals.
The two bids: FCC Environmental’s two-cart proposal with the mayor’s supplemental unlimited but seasonal yard waste pickup, at $24.2 million a year; and West Central Sanitation’s three-cart bid with separate yard waste collection for 35 weeks of the year, at $22.2 million annually. The FCC bid, favored by Stothert and the Public Works Department, would add about $7 million to the city’s trash collection costs.
Other major projects for the next budget include a new branch library in southwest Omaha and a fifth police precinct in west Omaha. The city will start paying $1.1 million next year to cover debt on bonds for its $50 million contribution toward the $300 million riverfront revitalization. Street maintenance, police and fire protection, sewer service and parks are among the budget’s many other components.
Omaha leaders have big responsibilities in preparing the new budget.
It’s no surprise they may disagree on individual items, but in the end, they’re required to make hard decisions. They also should make clear that even an unchanged tax rate can still bring in higher property tax revenues to city coffers.