CITY BUDGET

Omaha City Council members say they're worried about long waiting lists for new books at Omaha libraries, and they're not inclined to cut funding and risk even longer wait times.

Councilman Chris Jerram said he expects the council to override a mayoral budget veto and restore $175,000 for new materials at the library in 2015. Councilman Rich Pahls, who had provided the crucial fifth vote for the library funding, said he will vote for an override on Hiesday.

Council members said they don't expect to restore any of Mayor Jean Stothert's other budget vetoes.

Thursday, Stothert vetoed nearly every change the City Council made to her proposed city budget. Along with the library funding, she nixed funding for a bicycle-pedestrian coordinator, the Great Plains Black History Museum and a sustainability coordinator.

Council members had tapped into an unexpected windfall in property tax revenue to add about $850,000 in spending to the mayor's proposed budget.

When announcing the vetoes, Stothert said it's more important to build up the city's reserves than to spend money on those items.

"As you get extra revenue, you don't go out and find a way to spend every penny of it," she said.

She kept one change the council made: money for eight additional police officers next year. But she said those new officers will not affect her overall police staffing goal of 840 officers by 2016.

The 2015 city budget totals about $808 million.

Council President Pete Festersen argued that the council made its changes in a fiscally responsible manner.

"I think the mayor missed an opportunity to work with the supermajority of the council to prevent cuts to the library system," Festersen said. "I think that's important to the community."

An override would require five votes, and the council had voted 5-2 to increase the library spending.

Four council members who voted for the amendment — Festersen, Jerram, Pahls and Garry Gernandt — said they would support an override. The fifth, Ben Gray, could not be reached for comment.

Jerram had pushed to add $175,000 to buy library materials such as books and periodicals. He said he was particularly concerned about the issue because wait times for popular items can stretch to eight months.

Pahls said the Millard library in his district is usually busy.

"People are really utilizing the libraries," Pahls said. "We need to support them as best we can."

Stothert argues that her budget increases overall library funding, considering projected wage increases. But there would be less money for new materials.

In her veto letter, Stothert said the library director could apply that cut to an area other than materials, and she suggested the library consider cutting the time people can check out a book.

But council members said the public does not want that cut to library services.

"I'm optimistic I have the votes to restore that funding," Jerram said.

Unlike the library funding, Pahls did not support the other vetoed items, and they did not pass with a veto-proof majority. Festersen said he doesn't expect the council to override those vetoes.

Those three vetoes were:

• $60,000 for a bike transportation coordinator in a new position called the "complete streets active living0 manager." The mayor said the active living manager is unnecessary because she already plans to put a staff member in charge of those transportation issues in the City Planning Department.

• $50,000 to revive a sustainability coordinator that went away when grant funding ended. Stothert said the position is unnecessary.

• $40,000 for the Great Plains Black History Museum. The mayor said she hasn't seen a good plan for the museum, and she cited instability arising from disagreements between the current museum board and the family of the founder.

The mayor said that money should be saved.

"Each of these budget amendments takes money out of the contingency reserve fund," Stothert said in her veto statement. "Unexpected revenue should be saved, not spent."

The city's bond ratings already have been downgraded, and Stothert said bond raters will be looking closely at the city's reserve funds when they're considering another rating adjustment.

At the end of 2014 the city is projected to have $7.1 million in its two reserve funds.

Under the mayor's plan, the city would put an additional $1.1 million into reserve. That would bring those reserves to $8.25 million at the end of 2015, said Steve Curtiss, the city's finance director.

If the budget passed by the council were put into place, the city would have a little less than $8 million in reserve.

Stothert said the council's changes to the budget were "minimal."

"We worked on my budget for almost a year," she said. "I feel like it's fiscally sound."

Stothert considered vetoing the council's addition of eight police officers in 2015.

Instead, she said that she will add those officers to a recruit class in December 2015 and that officer staffing levels will not increase beyond what she had originally planned for 2016 — a full force of 840 officers.

Stothert said the council's addition "simply allows the chief and me to move even faster to achieve our goals."

"With the graduation of 36 new police recruits just this past week, we are no longer at a '10-year low' but close to full authorized strength," she said.

Contact the writer:

"Each of these budget amendments takes money out of the contingency reserve fund. Unexpected revenue should be saved, not spent."

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert

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