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

Rising thefts prompted the Omaha City Council to discuss a proposal to amend the municipal code to further regulate the sale of catalytic converters during Tuesday’s meeting. The City Council will vote on the proposal on March 8.

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A catalytic converter is a device that reduces toxic pollutants in a vehicle’s exhaust. It’s located on the outside of a vehicle and contains multiple valuable precious metals, making it susceptible to theft. 

Lieutenant Kyle Steffen from the Omaha Police Department said from 2016 to 2019, 55 catalytic converters were stolen per year. This year, 155 converters have been stolen per month, an approximate 2000% increase, Steffen said. 

The proposed ordinance would require anyone selling a catalytic converter to provide a vehicle identification number to show where it came from. It would also add converters to a list of regulated property to be monitored by the police department. Offenders could face a fine up to $500 and six months in jail.

“It’s not going to stop thefts from happening, but it’s going to give the police department some teeth they desperately need,” Councilmember Vinny Palermo said.

The Nebraska Unicameral will also consider a bill to curb catalytic converter theft. Palermo said he supports the bill, but he doesn’t think Omaha should wait for the state to address the issue. Palermo will testify in support of the legislative bill.

The City Council also approved multiple tax increment financing agreements Tuesday, including a $3.8 million agreement to construct a six-story apartment building at 38th Avenue and Dodge Street.

The Skylark Development would demolish three existing multi-unit homes at 101, 115 and 117

S 38th Avenue which currently houses 17 tenants, and replace them with 130 apartment units. Ten units would be classified as affordable housing. 

Opponent Larry Storer said he lived in the area decades ago, and he never considered it blighted, a requirement for TIF. He also questioned the city’s definition of affordable housing. The affordable units’ rents are estimated at $825 per month for a studio apartment, $950 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1200 for a two-bedroom apartment.

The City Council approved the plan unanimously, despite opposition. Three opponents testified Tuesday, and the City Council received four letters in opposition. Representatives of the Skylark development team spoke in support, and no other proponents joined them.

County Board

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners also met Tuesday to allocate coronavirus recovery funds. The Board approved $1 million for transportation expenses from the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. 

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The funds were allocated from the federal government to the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), and the Nebraska Department of Transportation came to an agreement to distribute the money to municipalities.  Mike Helgerson, executive director of MAPA, said the funds could be used for any road projects.

The Board also allocated $7.8 million from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) to account for lost revenue throughout the pandemic, and $20 million to various county departments’ budgets.

Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse gave a COVID-19 update to the County Board Tuesday, reporting that the county has fallen below the high transmission category for the first time since last summer.

COVID hospitalizations have also continued to drop, but overall hospital occupancy is still high. Huse said many people who have gone without care throughout the pandemic are now coming in, causing an increase in occupancy.

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