The 2023 city budget process continued Tuesday, Sept. 13, as the Omaha City Council approved the budget with amendments. The City Council also approved a resolution reaffirming support for the city’s climate action plan, and delayed voting on a resolution asking to make the Harney St. Bikeway permanent.
Mayor Jean Stothert set aside funding for each city councilmember to decide how to allocate. These amendments were all approved, including $50,000 to support an inclusive playground at Lake Zorinsky and $25,000 for Rejuvenating Woman to provide services for victims of human trafficking. They now head to the Mayor for her approval.
As part of the budget process, Council President Pete Festersen proposed a resolution asking the Mayor to allocate money from the 2022 budget surplus to hire a consultant for the city’s climate action plan. The City Council approved a resolution supporting the plan in November, and Festersen said they haven’t seen any progress since. This year’s resolution passed 4-3 along party lines.
“We’re reaffirming our support here, with some frustration I would say on my part,” Festersen said. “In the respect that we have not yet seen a request for proposal to get that project moving.”
The Mayor’s Chief of Staff Tom Warren said a request for proposal (RFP) will likely go out after the Metro Smart Cities advisory committee meets on Sept. 21. He said the City Council’s resolution won’t change their timeline, and they won’t be able to use 2022 funds because the consultant won’t be brought on until 2023 at the earliest.
Ten proponents spoke in support of the resolution, stressing the urgency of climate change. Former meteorologist John Pollack said right now, the city has a “climate inaction plan.”
“It consists of business-as-usual combined with ignoring not only climate change, but also lessons from past events,” Pollack said.
Proponent Mark Higgins said the Inflation Reduction Act’s climate provisions will provide the city funding opportunities. He said the federal money could go toward affordable housing projects with renewable energy, clean heavy duty vehicles like buses and garbage trucks, and tree planting efforts.
Opponents questioned the scientific consensus around climate change.
Festersen, joined by Councilmember Don Rowe, also introduced a resolution urging action on the Market-to-Midtown Bikeway. The resolution asks the Omaha Streetcar Authority (OSA) to evaluate alternative locations for the bike lane, and requests that the city consider extending the pilot and find permanent funding sources.
“I know that we’re looking at the streetcar on Farnam and Harney, and it’s a fluid topic,” Rowe said. “I want to make sure that the bike trail is not forgotten about.”
The City Council voted to lay the resolution over to next week, as Councilmember Brinker Harding proposed changing the language. He moved to amend the resolution to strike the language regarding the OSA, and explicitly recommend an extension of the pilot project.
OSA President Jay Noddle said they don’t want the proposed streetcar route to intrude on the protected bike lane on Harney Street. He said the OSA would be cooperative, but he didn’t think they were best equipped to evaluate alternative locations for the bike lane.
“For those of us involved with the streetcar authority…everyone recognizes that there are several forms of transportation that a number of people rely on in the urban core,” Noddle said. “They’re all integral to a great transportation network.”
Julie Harris, executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska, said the data shows the bike lane has been a success. The pilot project opened in July, 2021, and is set to expire in October. The initial agreement does feature a mechanism to extend the pilot, which the city will consider.
Multiple proponents said they took the bike lane to and from yesterday’s City Council meeting. Proponent Luke Schroer said Omaha’s bike infrastructure was part of the reason he moved to the city from Bellevue.
The City Council also approved an agreement with Automotus, Inc., to monitor curbside activities like ridesharing and deliveries. The agreement was laid over from last month, after Councilmember Aimee Melton said she didn’t receive enough information on the project and nobody was present at the meeting. The agreement was approved 4-2, with Councilmember Harding joining Melton in voting no.
Automotus, which operates similar programs in cities like Pittsburgh, will install cameras at designated “smart loading zones.” Commercial drivers for services like ridesharing and deliveries will register through an app, and pay a small fee to park in the zone. Cameras will record the cars’ license plates and automatically charge them accordingly. Any drivers not registered who use the zone will be notified and charged a fine.
The City Council also approved an amendment to the agreement with HDR for architectural services associated with the W. Dale Clark Library relocation, increasing the cost by over $130,000. The Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jacquelyn Morrison said the price is based on a percentage of the construction costs, which have increased since the initial estimation.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners also met Tuesday, Sept. 13, to approve funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to replace air conditioning units at the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center, support career exploration programs for high school students, and fund a birthing resource center in North Omaha.