Having come within a whisker of election to the Bellevue City Council last fall, Steve Carmichael hopes the second time will be a charm.
Carmichael garnered 1,593 votes, coming second behind incumbent Ward I Council Member Scott Houghtaling, who won with 1,871 votes.
A Republican, Carmichael offers deep familiarity with the City of Bellevue after working at City Hall for 24 years, 17 of those as chief building official. He is currently chief building official for the City of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
He said the city acted properly in the recent budget debate by pushing some projects into future fiscal years, but that administrators and council members imposed too large a tax increase because they failed to look hard enough for spending cuts, especially at the higher levels of government.
The fire department, for example, is “top heavy” with officers, he said, and other departments, too, should be candidates for consolidation or efficiencies.
“I don’t think they looked at the departments in a very scrutinizing way,” he said. “A lot of the higher-up levels could have absorbed cuts or could have consolidated functions and saved a lot of money.
“I’m not talking about saving a million dollars, but every time you evaluate a department and consolidate a service you might lose five or nine people at the higher pay levels, but you also might save $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 for the taxpayer and avoid huge increases in the mill levy.”
Lower tax rates can only help attract residents and businesses, Carmichael said, and the need for such development is nowhere so pressing as along the Fort Crook Road and Mission Avenue corridors.
Reduced fees, reduced design standards, and tax incentives can all be used to attract entrepreneurs looking for an inexpensive location, he said.
“We’ve got to make the business community receptive to the idea that Bellevue is a good place to come to, and then stand by the incentives that we give them,” he said.
Incentives, however, are different from partnerships, and Carmichael said he believes the city should be slow to involve itself in partnerships with private developers.
The difficulty the city has experienced in developing the 290 acres it purchased at 36th Street and Capehart Road, the struggle to attract businesses to the former Coreslab property at Fort Crook and Cornhusker roads, and the risk the city assumed by issuing bonds to build Hall of Fame Fields, are all examples of improper and risky use of taxpayer funds, he said.
The city should also not incur debt to install infrastructure in several hundred acres south of Offutt Air Force Base, an area widely held to be the future of Bellevue, Carmichael said.
He said such an expenditure could only be justified if the city had a firm commitment from a major developer that they would build if the infrastructure were in place.
“To put it in and then hope something comes from it is a very bad political philosophy for the City of Bellevue,” he said. “If we have an industry that wants to go down there, and that makes it economically viable for the city, then that might be a different story. I’m not static on this, but you have to know that the money is well spent and we’ll get the money back.”