An old idea is once again gaining steam. Omaha State Senator Brad Ashford is working on drafting a bill that would allow voters in Douglas County to decide if they want to merge county and Omaha city services.
“If we put them together, we are going to get efficiencies. We are going to get some good policy. Think they would find the necessary efficiencies they can’t find now because they are working in two different styles.”
Senator Ashford has a plan that includes using the budget for both entities combine it and have one governmental body in place.
“We are asking the County Board and the City Council to look at what I call the “New Gov”, a consolidated legislative body that will manage the entire county. It would make decisions on one budget.”
Senator Ashford says Omaha continues to increase taxes and operating in the red and that can’t continue. He says if one governing body had authority over both Omaha and Douglas County, many services could be combined.
“You are looking at one big budget for all city and county functions. You would have to sort it out on the local level like you do now but you’d be doing it by combining forces.”
Senator Ashford says the Nebraska Legislature became unicameral for that reason in the 1930’s and it has worked well. He says in this case, change would be good.
“I think the system is too old. Its 50, 60, 70 year old system. The County Board goes back to the beginning of the county. What I’m trying to do is remove the obstacles to allowing the city and the county to do this.”
Senator Ashford says some of the services that could be combined include law enforcement, road departments and car pooling. Nearly 90% of the county’s population lives within the Omaha city limits. This is not a new idea and several proposals have been kicked round for the past 15 years. Two of them had the support of Omaha mayors.