Opponents to the 2023 city budget and Capital Improvement Program (CIP) focused on climate change, the rising police department budget, and a lack of funding for the new libraries during Tuesday’s public hearing.
Isabella Manhart, a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said climate change should be made a bigger priority in the city’s budget. Since the Omaha City Council approved the creation of a climate action plan last year, little progress has been made.
“The word climate appears zero times in the budget right now,” Manhart said. “The climate action plan isn’t there, and that’s something that’s glaringly missing for me in this budget.”
Opponent Luis Jimenez said Omaha was included in a “heat belt,” an area where the heat index could reach 125°F at least one day a year by 2053 according to a recent study. He also pointed toward last year’s flooding as evidence of the negative effects of climate change.
Noemi Gilbert said the Market to Midtown Bikeway — Omaha’s only protected bike lane — should be made permanent and asked for funding to be set aside in the CIP. They said bike infrastructure is an evidence-based solution to traffic fatalities, which they said have increased since 2018.
“I use the Harney Street bike lane nearly every day,” Gilbert said. “Taking it downtown to school is the safest I’ve ever felt cycling in Omaha.”
Similar to previous years, an increase to the Omaha Police Department’s budget was a major point of criticism for opponents. Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert has said that funding and staffing the police was one of her top priorities, with a proposed 4.6% increase.
Opponent Teresa Summerland said increasing the police budget doesn’t make the community more safe, and that addressing economic insecurity makes a bigger impact on crime. She pointed toward Denver, Colorado’s STAR program and Eugene, Oregon’s CAHOOTS program as alternatives to increased police funding.
“You guys disappointed Omaha with your budget decisions last year, don’t disappoint us again,” Summerland said.
Johnny Redd said allocating 37.5% of the general fund budget to the police doesn’t make sense when other departments are underfunded. They said that the city’s priorities translate to “passive violence,” particularly towards the homeless.
“Please invest in the people of Omaha, and let us show you what a better city can look like,” Redd said.
Many opponents asked for more funding to be allocated to Omaha Public Library amidst major changes, including the demolition and relocation of the downtown library and the proposed central branch at 72nd and Dodge. Gab Rima criticized the lack of transparency, saying it’s “Mayor Stothert’s world and we’re just living in it.”
“The proposed increase to the library budget is not even enough to cover the costs of renting the three new locations required to carry out this plan, “ Rima said. “This is an active defunding of our public library system.”
Proponents to the city budget included non-profits receiving funding, like the anti-human trafficking Set Me Free Project and Siena Francis House. Doug Kagan from Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom was also a proponent, saying the advocacy group gave the budget a “B” rating for not raising property taxes.