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Jobs, public safety, an overhaul of streets: Highlights of Stothert's State of the City address

Jobs, public safety, an overhaul of streets: Highlights of Stothert's State of the City address

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Omaha continues to move in the right direction, and that growth comes down to one important word, Mayor Jean Stothert said in her seventh State of the City speech Friday: “investment.”

The city is making investments in job programs, housing and public safety, she said. The private sector is investing in a slate of new developments, such as the 500-acre, mixed-use Heartwood Preserve southwest of 144th Street and West Dodge Road.

The public plays a role, too, Stothert said. She’s counting on voters to approve a $200 million bond issue to rehabilitate and maintain Omaha’s roads.

“Omaha is a thriving city with an exciting future,” she said.

Read on for highlights of Stothert’s speech.

Investment in North and South Omaha

Stothert highlighted a number of programs focused on housing, jobs and young people in North and South Omaha.

She said she will ask the City Council to contribute $25,000 to an internship program for Hispanic students launched by the Latino Center of the Midlands.

The city money would go toward expanding the program to offer jobs, training and mentoring for young people ages 16 to 19.

Stothert also celebrated a $25 million federal grant that will help demolish the worn-out Spencer Homes public housing apartments, replace them with better housing and rejuvenate a nearby stretch of North 30th Street.

Similarly, Omaha has received a grant to revitalize the Indian Hills neighborhood, including the Omaha Housing Authority’s Southside Terrace Garden Apartments.

“Omaha has the will, the commitment and the resources to invest these (grants) wisely, and become an example for other communities ready to reinvest in older neighborhoods,” Stothert said.

Public safety

This fall, the city will break ground on a new fire station near 34th and Q Streets.

In September, the Omaha Police Department opened a precinct in the Elkhorn area with goals of lowering response times for high-priority calls and reducing the call volume at other precincts.

Stothert said the city has added police officers and that response times are improving. Over the past four years, the homicide rate has fallen to a 30-year low. Incidents of police use of force are down.

“Omaha is as safe today as it has been in many, many years,” Stothert said.

Transportation

Stothert’s speech outlined initiatives that could change how Omahans move around the city.

A bike lane pilot program that will put temporary protective bike lanes on streets with “high bicycle ridership” will soon launch, Stothert said.

There’s no guarantee that a fleet of electric scooters will return to Omaha this year, but if they do, Stothert said, safety will be a key consideration. She said she will bring an ordinance to the City Council this spring to regulate the scooters.

And Stothert reiterated that a $200 million bond issue is necessary to establish a long-term plan to fix Omaha’s streets.

If voters approve the measure, which will appear on the May 12 ballot, the city will be able to close the gap on a $34 million annual street repair shortfall, officials have said.

Property taxes would rise by about $26 for every $100,000 of valuation. Stothert said keeping taxes as low as possible is important to her, but so is providing quality services to taxpayers.

A series of town hall meetings will be held this spring to answer questions about the bond issue.

Economy

The “ripple effect” of private investment and a strong local economy benefit all Omahans, Stothert said.

Among the statistics she underscored: Employment growth is up by more than 3% compared with a year ago. The unemployment rate in Omaha sits at 2.8%. Average hourly wages have risen by more than $1 since December 2018.

The mayor referenced a World-Herald story calling the city a “boomtown.”

Other highlights

  • This spring, the city will introduce a mobile app. People will be able to make a report to the Mayor’s Hotline, access city websites and review job openings. It will include information about trash collection, road closings and snow removal.
  • Stothert thanked University of Nebraska Medical Center leaders for their response to the coronavirus outbreak.

reece.ristau@owh.com, 402-444-1127, @reecereports

Omaha World-Herald: Afternoon Update

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Reece covers Omaha City Hall, including the City Council and Mayor's Office, and how decisions by local leaders affect Omaha residents. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL graduate. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127​

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