Government services consolidation proposed

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony Feb. 25 on a bill regarding the potential consolidation of government services in Douglas County.

LB344, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, would provide a process for consolidating governmental subdivisions in counties that contain a city of the metropolitan class. Currently, Omaha is the state’s only metropolitan class city.

Ashford said current state law allows for such a merger and that the state has a compelling interest in encouraging the city and county to explore options for reducing redundant services and becoming more efficient.

“It’s time to address significant change,” he said. “We need to go forward with an honest effort.”

Under the bill, an interjurisdictional planning commission would be created to review and plan for the possible merger of governmental services. The commission would have nine members including three selected by the mayor of Omaha, two by the Omaha city council, two by the Douglas County board and two by other municipalities within Douglas County.

The commission would be required to study the tax and spending implications of merging services, the quality and cost of services and the potential impact of a merger. The bill would require that a merger plan be developed and approved by the commission by July 1, 2012.
The resulting plan would require voter approval.

LB344 also would change public vote provisions for the merger of counties and municipalities into a municipal county. Under the bill, approval would no longer be required by a majority of those voting who reside outside of any municipality or sanitary and improvement district.

Ashford said those who live outside of Omaha should not be allowed to veto a merger process.

Don Wesely testified in favor of the bill on behalf of the Omaha mayor’s office. Omaha and Douglas County already have merged several functional areas of government, he said, including purchasing, the parks department and the 911 center.

“The mayor would like to see if there is any other progress that can be made in this area,” Wesely said. “A study like this could reveal some interesting information.”

Jerry Stilmock, representing the Nebraska Volunteer Firefighters Association, testified against the bill. Retaining the rural vote on any potential merger between Omaha and Douglas County is essential to protect the interests of everyone who would be impacted, he said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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