OMAHA (KPTM)- Since 2009, the city's Sustainability Department helped make Omaha more energy efficient, but that office is on the verge of being shut down. Money that funds the office expires at the end of the year and no plans to keep the department were set aside in the proposed budget.
The sustainability department started in 2009 under Jim Suttle and is currently funded by a federal grant of about $10 million. Most of the money was used towards different projects, like changing traffic lights to LED lights, as well as lights parking garages. The department also runs the re-Energize program—an opportunity for businesses and residents to lower energy costs by insulation and other modifications. Department coordinator Kristi Wamstad-Evans said the efforts done by the department saves the city about $775,000 per year.
However, the grant funding the department expires December 31st and nothing is set aside for the department in the proposed budget.
In a statement, Omaha mayor Jean Stothert said, "In our effort to reduce spending in 2014 budget and recommend a balanced budget without a tax increase we were unable to fund this position with general fund dollars. The work that was undertaken by the Sustainability office will be continued by the Planning Department and our private partners."
Wamstad-Evans believes there should be money set aside so the department can continue helping the city save money.
"This is not about me saving my job or me getting into kind of a conflict with the mayor. This is really something about whether or not the citizens of Omaha want a champion for sustainability within their city operations," she said.
Nancy Walsh had her home upgraded through the re-Energize program. She said her utility bills used to be about $350 per month before the modifications were done, cutting her bill in half. She said she is a strong believer in the department and hopes the efforts of making Omaha more energy efficient continues.
"I think it's important that we move in that direction because if we don't I think we're going to be at a loss for some other resources that we've become over reliant on," said Walsh.
Wamstad-Evans said about $230,000 is needed to funded salaries and administrative costs for the department.
An amendment to the budget was proposed in City Council to hire a temporary consultant to keep working on the city's energy efficiency needs. The vote on the 2014 budget is August 27th.