The legislative chambers inside the Omaha/Douglas County Civic Center.

Facing a shortage of street maintenance workers to remove snow this winter, The Omaha City Council approved two ordinances to increase their hourly wage by $3.60 an hour. Councilmember Vinny Palermo moved for an amendment to increase street maintenance workers’ shift differential by $5 an hour, but the city council’s three Republicans, Don Rowe, Aimee Melton and Brinker Harding, blocked it.

Palermo said street workers need a larger increase because the department is currently 49 employees short. He said the city’s various revenue streams are bringing in plenty of money, so the city should invest the money in workers.

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“[Human Resources] is trying their hardest, but it’s not working,” Palermo said of efforts to attract new workers. “The reason we are losing employees now is because of the wage difference.”

The amendment was approved with a four-vote majority, but the ordinance as amended needed five votes to pass. Councilmember Rowe moved to reconsider it without the amendment. The original ordinance was then approved unanimously.

During last week’s meeting, the city council approved a package of legislative priorities for the Unicameral’s upcoming session. The only resolution not approved was a request to change state liquor license laws to bring private social clubs under the definition of bottle clubs, requiring them to get licensed to serve alcohol. Council laid over the resolution after residents from District 2 in North Omaha said the potential bill would target their area’s social clubs. This week, the city council’s Democrats, President Pete Festersen, Vinny Palermo, Danny Begley and Juanita Johnson, voted it down along party lines, 4-3.

Councilmember Johnson said if the city and state government wants to deal with issues in North Omaha, they should address poverty, jobs and food deserts rather than a few private clubs.

Councilmember Melton, who introduced the resolution, had offered to meet with North Omaha residents who opposed it. Johnson said that wouldn’t be needed, and District 2 should be able to deal with issues locally.

“Please help District 2 by creating unity in District 2, not division in District 2,” Johnson said.

Melton said she didn’t mind if the resolution was voted down since it’s up to the Unicameral either way, but the entire city council should be involved in issues affecting the city. Councilmember Rowe added that it would affect clubs statewide. 

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday and received a weekly COVID-19 update. Carol Allensworth filled in for Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse, and reported that cases are spiking.

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The county reported the most cases in a single day since December 2020, with 477 cases confirmed Tuesday morning. The age groups reporting the highest total of cases are younger than 35. 

Allensworth said schools who have mandated universal masking have seen a total of 18 classroom closures because of COVID-19, while schools with optional masking have seen 44 classroom closures.

Hospitalizations continue to remain high, and Allensworth said hospital capacity is hitting levels not seen since last December.

Vaccinations are spiking for youth in Douglas County, with 24.5% of children aged 5 to 11 receiving at least one dose. Allensworth also reported that 62% of residents aged 65 and older have now received a booster dose.

Six cases of the omicron variant were reported in Nebraska outside of Omaha, and they were all travel-related. Allensworth said only one of the six individuals was fully vaccinated, and none were hospitalized. 

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