Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert presented the recommended 2022 city budget during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. On Aug. 3 at 6:30 p.m., the Omaha City Council will hold a public hearing on the budget.
The 2022 general fund will amount to $456 million, a 3.5% increase from the 2021 budget. The entire proposed budget will total over $1.2 billion.
“This budget focuses on recovery, reinvestment and rebuilding from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stothert said.
The budget will include a two-percent cut to the property tax rate. Mayor Stothert also recommended again deferring the levy increase that voters approved in May 2020 to repair city streets.
“This represents the most significant property tax relief actions in Omaha in 20 years,” Stothert said.
Stothert said she’ll continue to “reject calls to defund” the police. The budget includes a 3.25% increase to the Omaha Police Department budget, which totals nearly $170 million.
Funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) wasn’t included in the budget plan. The city is requesting feedback from the community on how to spend the $112 million appropriated by Congress through ARPA.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved $17.5 million in tax increment financing (TIF) for the WarHorse Casino at Horseman’s Park, despite opposition from some community members.
Former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub said that by opposing the plan, he wasn’t trying to relitigate the results of the initiative to authorize gambling at Nebraska race tracks that voters approved in November.
Daub said that the project, despite what developers say, would cost taxpayers rather than bring relief. He also said the project doesn’t qualify for TIF, and that the planning department made a mistake recommending approval.
Pat Loontjer of Gambling with the Good Life, a group opposing gambling in Nebraska, said approving TIF for a casino would make Omaha “the laughing stock of the nation.”
Opponents argued that the project would be feasible without TIF, but the applicant’s representatives disagreed. Along with the city law department, they said the public improvements associated with the project would not happen without the city’s involvement.
District 4 Councilmember Vinny Palermo said the project area at 6303 Q St., in his district, is underutilized and would benefit economically from the development. Q Street would be widened, and the applicants said over 2,000 jobs would be created.
Councilmember Don Rowe was the only vote against the project. Rowe said he supports the project and that it will be “wildly successful,” but his constituents are “having trouble understanding why we should rebate back tax dollars to pay for the infrastructure costs.”
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to discuss the proposed 2021-2022 county budget and receive a COVID-19 update from the new Douglas County Health Director.
Finance Director Joe Lorenz presented the budget to the board. The requested budget, excluding $55 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), is $459.5 million, which is 4.9% higher than last year. The budget contains no increase in the tax rate on assessed property values.
Seven departments requested budgets higher than their targets. Four were a part of the criminal justice system, which Lorenz called “repeat offenders.” Lorenz said that trend would continue in future years unless reforms to the system are made. He said the other three departments appeared to be one-time issues.
Property taxes make up 43.6% of the county’s sources of revenue, which Lorenz said weren’t hit hard by the pandemic like other revenue sources. Property valuations have risen consistently in the past four years, allowing the county some flexibility.
The new Douglas County Health Director, Dr. Lindsay Huse, gave the Board her first COVID-19 and vaccination update since Dr. Adi Pour’s retirement on June 30. Cases are rising in Douglas County, but hospitalizations and deaths remain low. The Delta variant is now predominant among COVID-19 cases, but Huse said only a small number of tests are sequenced for the variant.
The health department’s vaccination efforts are focused on families as the new school year approaches. Huse said that physician-based clinics are increasingly important, as hesitant individuals tend to trust their physician to answer questions about the vaccine.
Over 69% of Douglas County residents over the age of 16 have received one dose, and 65.6% are fully vaccinated. Huse said vaccination data for children under 16 is unreliable.
TestNebraska is discontinued, so the health department is making sure a list of testing sites is available to the community. Huse said they’ve been in contact with school districts, and they’ve focused on communication efforts through daily press releases and interviews with the media.
The county board also received its monthly report from the Douglas County Department of Corrections. Director Mike Myers said that 16 officers left the department in June, and staff retention has been an ongoing issue throughout the pandemic.
“I’m making a recommitment to the staff,” Myers said. “We can make a comprehensive effort to counteract the negative impact of those challenges.”
The department has taken actions like providing mental health support for staff and providing alternative work schedules. Myers said they’re planning a “Jailhouse Olympics” as a team-building exercise.
Deputy County Administrator for Juvenile Justice Kim Hawekotte gave a report on the Douglas County Youth Center. The incarcerated youth population is down from 72 incarcerated minors at this point last year to 55. The population is 94.5% youth of color, which is a higher percentage than last year.
About 41.8% of youth are tried in adult court, and those youths stay an average of 127.7 days longer than those tried in youth court. Hawekotte said the pandemic lengthened the stay for those tried in adult court.
After Tuesday’s meeting, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners toured the Corrections facility.