Six months ago, Joey Spellerberg became the city’s first new mayor in a decade after replacing former Mayor Scott Getzschman.
Spellerberg, along with three new city council members, took office in January and have since seen several projects and public issues come before the Fremont City Council.
On Tuesday, Spellerberg took time to reflect on the first six months of his mayoral tenure. He discussed everything from the city’s ability to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic to his goals for the future.
Spellerberg pointed to the the city’s LB840 program, which allows for incorporated cities and villages to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes.
Through the LB840 program, Spellerberg said the city has been able to use the voter-approved sales tax to create jobs, attract capital investment and ensure economic stability in Fremont.
“Since 2000, just over $20 million of LB840 funds have been invested in property and infrastructure and awarded to businesses growing in Fremont,” he said. “This has resulted in the creation of over 1,800 new jobs, the retention of 1,600 jobs and an increase of $196 million in assessed property values of those who have received LB840 funds.”
The City of Fremont is also in the middle of revamping its Comprehensive Plan, Unified Development Code and Long-Range Transportation Plan. Working with Chicago-based firm Houseal Lavigne, Spellerberg said the city is on its way to completing a “roadmap to the future.”
“Updating our Comprehensive Plan is a marathon, not a sprint, but I look forward to continuing to work on this important project,” he said.
Spellerberg and the council have also been presented with pushback from members of the Fremont public on issues related to its now-terminated contract with the Dodge County Humane Society and drainage concerns at the Fremont Technology Park.
The saga surrounding DCHS and the City of Fremont was an issue inherited by Spellerberg, which ultimately resulted in a decision to terminate the animal control provider over contract violations in February.
That decision also led to the city signing a new contract with FurEver Home, LLC., for animal sheltering services. Since that decision, DCHS has filed lawsuits against both parties in February.
“The City Council approved the sheltering service agreement with FurEver Homes and the creation of three new community service officers,” Spellerberg said. “These positions have already begun to provide critical help with animal control, property evidence and code enforcement, allowing patrol officers to have more time on the streets, protecting and assisting our community.”
The council also faced pushback from the public after an ordinance to amend the floor area ratio for businesses in Fremont’s Business Park was first introduced in March.
The proposal, brought forward by City Administrator Brian Newton, would have increased the allowable floor area ratio in the Business Park district for single-story structures, two-story structures and three-story structures.
The ordinance concerned some Fremont residents in the surrounding area about potential drainage problems that could arise due to the park’s development. That pushback ultimately led to the ordinance being tabled during an April council meeting.
“We all understand the challenges of drainage in our community, but to make progress, we must come together and have the foresight and understanding to look at the big picture as our community continues to grow moving forward,” he said.
Spellerberg pointed to significant economic development in key areas of the city during his address, including the city’s Technology Park.
After a decade of development, Spellerberg said the park is beginning to take shape with more than half of the lots either sold or pending sale. Because of those sales, the City of Fremont will not be required to pay back an almost $1 million grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
Spellerberg also pointed to council-approved economic development grants for several Fremont businesses, including 505 Brewing and 505 Lofts in downtown Fremont.
“As you can see, it’s a very exciting time for Fremont,” he said. “I continue to be amazed by your accomplishments. You, the dedicated, hard-working people of Fremont, are what make our community a great place to live.”
Spellerberg also pointed to the challenges the Fremont community must address in the near future, highlighting issues such as housing, workforce development and the city’s law enforcement center.
In January, Fremont and Dodge County completed a housing study update. The update highlighted a need for more than 1,000 new housing units in the next five years.
“With rising prices, lack of supply and increase in demand, we must work to find solutions and continue to support new housing options for our community,” Spellerberg said.
Spellerberg reiterated the need for a law enforcement center in Fremont during his Tuesday comments. He said the city continues to sink in more and more money to keep the city’s police department open and functional.
“Our police department continues to deal with facility conditions that don’t meet their needs,” he said. “Unsanitary drinking water, locker rooms in hallways and maintenance issues around every corner. Their current building was never meant to house a police department.”
Spellerberg said the city must come together to find a solution that gives law enforcement officers a better future in Fremont.