Higher sales tax? Not so fast
It looks like there will be no fast track on a higher sales tax in Omaha.
After the Legislature gave the proposal its final approval this week – by overriding the governor’s veto – I called Omaha City Council members to get their take.
Three (Pete Festersen, Tom Mulligan and Jean Stothert) said they’re against putting a higher sales tax to a vote in Omaha.
The new law sets up the City Council as the first gatekeeper on any proposal. A super-majority, five out of seven members in Omaha’s case, would have to approve putting the issue on the ballot.
If three are opposed, any proposal is going nowhere for now. You can read my story here.
Is the idea dead? Not entirely. The Mayor’s Office plans to start talking with different sectors of the community about the issue.
So it might take more time and more debate before the issue comes before voters.
MECA board has new chairman
John Lund elected to replace Jim Vokal as head of MECA board
John Lund has been elected by his fellow board members to serve as chairman of the MECA board.
Lund, CEO of the local commercial real estate firm the Lund Company, replaces Jim Vokal, who remains on the board.
The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority runs CenturyLink Center Omaha, TD Ameritrade Park and the Civic Auditorium.
“Stepping into the leadership role on the MECA Board is an exciting challenge,” Lund said in a statement. “CenturyLink Center Omaha and TD Ameritrade Park Omaha are among several crown jewels for the community. I look forward to carrying on the success that has been established and to ensure that these facilities continue to perform to their greatest potential.”
The board also elected Jennifer Rasmussen as vice-chair, Dana Bradford as secretary and Vokal as treasurer. Next month, Willy Theisen will join the board, replacing outgoing member David Kramer.
Voters may get a say on city building plan
My story from today about the City of Omaha’s new $281 million building plan elicited some grumbles and groans from the commenters over on omaha.com.
“Omaha is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy the way it is now – we can’t afford these upgrades, plain and simple.”
“Sounds like time for our mayor to come up with a creative new tax to ram down our throats in order to fund all the new expenses.”
The way it looks now, Omaha voters just might get their say.
Redevelopment moves west
The City of Omaha is on its way to opening up some new corners of Omaha to property tax incentives.
This week, the Omaha Planning Board signed off on plans to set up redevelopment districts in downtown Elkhorn, southwest of 72nd and L, in Old Mill and near North 42nd Street.
The City Council still will need to declare those areas blighted, as the Planning Board endorsed.
But it’s clear the city wants to stretch its redevelopment efforts into new areas, offering a property tax break as the lure.
The city has gotten pushback in the past for its expanding efforts. So we’ll have to see how these new moves play out.
Last year, Fairacres homeowners objected to the city’s attempt to declare their upscale neighborhood as “blighted.”
Westside school officials objected that a large portion of its tax base could get tied up in tax incentive projects.
A key state lawmaker proposed a bill that would have shut down Omaha’s use of the redevelopment tool.
Now the city wants to use the incentive for streets around TD Ameritrade’s new headquarters. This comes long after the company’s plans were approved and construction started.
The other three redevelopment areas also have projects on the table already, including a Menards at 72nd and L. Now, it looks like they’re in line for tax incentives to move their projects along.
Early retirements, big pensions
Pension payouts could lead to further scrutiny of police managers contract
Omaha’s last three police chiefs have retired before they turned 50 – Tom Warren and Eric Buske at ages 47 and now Alex Hayes at 48.
World-Herald reporter John Ferak examined Omaha’s turnover at police chief and the impact of the pension payouts in a weekend story.
For those three retirees alone, Omaha’s pension system could make almost $10 million in payments over the rest of their lives.
The payouts are raising eyebrows regarding an issue that already is under intense scrutiny. Omaha’s police and fire pension already is facing an estimated $573 million shortfall.
Some City Council members say they’ll be examining the police managers contract further. Plus, city elections are coming next year, and Councilman Chris Jerram predicts that police and fire contracts will be a major election issue.
“The public is clamoring for more pension reform,” Jerram said in Sunday’s story.
How many stories is the Hyatt Place anyway?
The curious construction behind the new hotel coming to the Old Market
Look closely at the rendering for the Hyatt Place that is coming to the Old Market. Make sure to count those floors. Maybe I should say “floors.”
An eagle-eyed reader pointed out a seeming discrepancy involving the hotel’s plans for 12th and Jackson Streets.
My story on the project was clear: It’s a nine-story hotel. Hyatt said so in its press release.
But the rendering sure looks like 11 stories.
My source wondered: What gives?
So I asked Hyatt to clarify.
The response from Hyatt spokeswoman Laurie Cole: The building is, in fact, nine stories and the rendering does appear to be 11 levels.
Here’s the deal:
Hyatt is building a parking structure into the building, but the parking levels don’t line up with what look like floors from the outside.
The building will have a ground level, following by three parking levels, followed by five levels of hotel rooms. That’s nine “stories.”
“In layman’s terms, the rendering makes it look like 11 floors, when there are really only 9,” Cole wrote me back.
Question answered. And now on to construction.
GLBT ordinance set for consideration
Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray’s proposal to change city ordinances to include protections from discrimination for gay and transgender residents will be formally introduced at Tuesday’s council meeting.
A public hearing will be held March 6, and a vote is scheduled for March 13.
Gray’s proposal would apply to employers, employment agencies and labor organizations in Omaha and businesses who sign contracts with the city.
Religious organizations, as well as religious-affiliated colleges or schools, would be exempted from adhering to provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Read the current city ordinances, with Gray’s proposed changes, here.
Also, at 1:30 p.m. today, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on a bill that would bar Nebraska cities and local governments from unilaterally creating new classes of residents protected from discrimination. State Sen. Beau McCoy’s Legislative Bill 912 would grant such authority solely to the state.
Hyatt Place is a go
Hotel company has bought land at 12th and Jackson, will start construction this spring
The proposed Hyatt Place hotel we’ve written about in concept is now moving forward.
Check out the rendering of what’s on the way for the Old Market.
What do you think?
Hyatt Hotels Corp. announced this morning that it had bought the northwest corner of 12th and Jackson Streets and would start construction early in the second quarter of this year.
It will be a nine-story, 159-room hotel.
There have been plans for a hotel on that site as far back as 2007. Back then, plans called for a Marriott Residence Inn.
But the project languished through the recession before Hyatt stepped in last July. City Hall reporter Juan Perez Jr. wrote our story last year.
So it’s a good sign economically that the project is proceeding. The hotel will employ about 50 people.
Suttle? Ashford? Stothert? . . . Ricketts?
“From Pete’s perspective, it’s all a lot of gossip.”
That’s the response from Ricketts family spokesman Dennis Culloton on rumors that Pete Ricketts is considering a run for Omaha mayor.
The speculation comes from the anonymous Republican political blog Leavenworth Street, which posted an unattributed piece today speculating that Ricketts has “very serious interest” in running for mayor in 2013.
“Leavenworth Street is getting word,” blogger Street Sweeper writes before dropping the Ricketts name, with an exclamation point no less.
With that, you can group the former U.S. Senate candidate with Mayor Jim Suttle, Councilwoman Jean Stothert and State Sen. Brad Ashford – among the speculative mayoral candidates for 2013.
Leavenworth Street almost dropped the cliche “game-changer” about Ricketts. “Ricketts has not announced anything, and this could all be just another trial balloon,” the blog post says. “But if he is interested, this changes a great deal.”
Said Culloton, “It’s just fun for the bloggers, and that’s about it.”
Budget shortfall squabble
We broke the news this morning about the city’s year-end 2011 budget shortfall of $740,307.
City Hall reporter Juan Perez Jr. broke it down here and showed the blame game getting started between the Suttle administration and the City Council.
In case you missed it, Mayor Jim Suttle is blaming the council because it didn’t pass the fire contract. Councilman Chris Jerram says the Suttle administration had a costly financial misstep in the fire union dispute.
City Council members came out with a statement this afternoon, saying Suttle’s attempt at placing blame was a “cynical and blatantly political tactic.” Check out the statement here.
And here’s the original press release from the Mayor’s Office taking shots at the council.