Additional police recruits, software for a new city information phone line and funding for job training programs are among the tweaks the Omaha City Council made before passing Mayor Jean Stothert's budget Tuesday.
The council voted unanimously to approve the $793 million budget for 2014, which includes less money for a few departments, but more for others, including police, fire, finance and planning.
While discussions about the Fire Department's $90.6 million budget were a central focus in the weeks leading up to the budget vote, most of the discussion at Tuesday's council meeting focused on smaller and more specific spending proposals.
Councilman Garry Gernandt's proposal to spend $250,000 on a 311 hotline sparked 40 minutes of discussion. Gernandt has been an advocate of the 311 system for several years, and the city has spent money on studies and research to sort out how it would work.
The $250,000 will pay for the software for the system, which the city has said could cost a total of $1.2 million to get up and running. The money will come out of the city's contingency reserve fund.
Gernandt said the software will help keep the city up to date in its efforts to communicate with residents.
“It cuts through the red tape, but it does not cut out the information that the call taker takes,” he said.
After some council members expressed concerns about the system's duplication of the current mayor's hotline, the council approved the plan in a 4-3 vote. Council members Aimee Melton, Rich Pahls and Franklin Thompson voted no.
The voting breakdown played out the same way on a proposal to spend $50,000 on a consultant who could help manage the city's sustainability efforts.
Stothert planned to shut down the sustainability office, which had been funded with federal grant money. The office struggled to meet its goals with the reEnergize program, which aimed to help homeowners retrofit their homes to make them more energy efficient.
Now, an outside contractor, rather than a city employee, will lead sustainability work.
Council President Pete Festersen said the city has a responsibility to try to operate more efficiently — and to have someone keeping track of those efforts.
“Almost every other large business in town has this function,” he said. “And we are a large business, and we should be paying attention to these things.”
Festersen won unanimous support for his proposal to set aside another $150,000 for police recruits. The money comes from an adjustment in property valuations that left the city with more money than it had expected.
Stothert's budget had called for a class of 35 recruits to begin in 2014. The revised plan would provide for two classes: one with 16 to 20 recruits in January, and a second with 35 recruits in October. It will require additional spending in the 2015 budget.
Meanwhile, the council approved a proposal from Councilman Chris Jerram to increase the city's assistance to the Durham Museum from $34,600 to $100,000. Councilman Ben Gray's plan to move some of the $300,000 set aside for truancy prevention work to the Building Healthy Futures and Heartland Workforce Solutions programs was also approved.
Council members also voted to adjust a five-year capital spending plan to set aside $2.2 million in the 2015 budget for street improvements around the site of the planned University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey arena.