Tuesday's Public Hearing Lasts Four Hours

WOWT TV
Last Updated: 12:53 AM Aug 12, 2009
Reporter: Jaime McCutcheon, Brian Mastre

The proposed tax hikes were a topic that riled up many of the speakers at Tuesday night's public hearing. It was standing room only for close to 300 people with another room set up for the overflow. Citizens spoke for 4-hours -- wrapping up at 11pm.

Close to 60 people addressed the council. Many who spoke about the tax hikes spoke out against them, some spoke in favor of them.

Preserving the libraries was also a big topic. Many wore stickers in support. Earlier in the week, the Library Board decided to close the Florence branch and shorten the hours of the others for the rest of 2009.

Librarian Amy Mather told the council that it's been hard seeing 55 employees let go as part of the Mayor's budget cuts. "Losing these people means we're losing programs."

Cuts to the civilians union also came up time and again. 130 full-time and part-time workers are facing layoffs notices this week. Bibiana Decker, who has been in Omaha Public Works street maintenance for 13 years, said workers like her feel like they aren't important when other departments aren't hit hard. "Why don't we cut fire? Instead we pick on civilians who pay a higher dental premium than fire management does and we make the least amount of money."

Paul Minor disagreed that the layoffs aren't necessary. "It's not fun to layoff people." But he went on to say that sometimes that's the only way for a business or government to solve its problems.

The entertainment tax was hit on by many of the speakers, but a property tax hike wasn't forgotten. City council members heard from the average citizen, employees and business owners who work in the industries targeted an representatives from groups like the chamber of commerce. All are fearful of what a tax hike could do to those already hurting.

The fight against tax hikes Tuesday started before you could even get inside council chambers for the public hearing. Outside city hall the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom protested a raise in taxes.

Patrick Bonnett, Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, said, "and we've already submitted four pages of budget efficiencies that the city can enact right away."

Members even collected petition signatures to show the city council the support this movement has, along with its ideas.

"What we hope to do is help the city council understand there's cuts they can make and efficiencies they can enact to stave off some of the job cuts," explained Bonnett. As well as the proposed tax hikes.

Chris Bettini worries about the proposed entertainment tax. "I work in the service industry, and I've heard a lot of people complain about this tax, that they're not going to be able to go out as often."

Something that would hurt his livelihood, which the economy is already doing.

"I have to cut back, clip coupons and eat Ramen noodles and the mayor's buying a car with a 24% interest rate and raising salaries of people $80,000. If I was doing that at home I wouldn't be able to survive, and I think many people here are in the same boat."

Teacher Tom Consenza and his wife are. "We're afraid that at the end of this school year, the cost of living in Omaha is going to be such that we're not going to be teaching here after this next year."

Doug Kagan with the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom also stood up to speak to the city council. "We strongly urge you to mark the mayor's budget 'return to sender' and send it back to room 300 with a list of sensible budget cuts attached."

There were those who spoke in favor of the tax hikes. Members of OTOC, an organization made up mostly of local churches, said they supported the proposed hikes. But out of all those who spoke Tuesday night, that opinion was in the minority.

The city council will vote on the budget September 1.