The city will spend another $393,000 on the demolition of the W. Dale Clark Library after approval from the Omaha City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The original $678,000 agreement with Cox Contracting was amended to reflect additional services requested by the city.
Jacquelyn Morrison, Mayor Stothert’s deputy chief of staff for economic development, said the city needs to remove steel pilings at the library site. Mutual of Omaha plans to construct a new tower, which will require new, thicker pilings.
Jennifer Taylor from the city law department said if the City Council didn’t approve the change order, the city would risk legal consequences for breaching the agreement with Mutual of Omaha. The city is obligated to have the building demolished and site completely cleared by December 31.
“It is at the discretion of the Council, but there are consequences to any decision made here,” Taylor said.
Morrison said the city knew the work would be necessary, but it wasn’t included in the request for proposals (RFP). She said they didn’t know how many of the pilings would need to be removed, depending on Mutual of Omaha’s final design for the tower. Mutual has since determined that only 75 of the 320 to 370 pilings need to be removed.
Morrison said they could have included removing all of the piling in the original RFP and then amended the agreement later to reduce the total price, but this process gave them a more accurate number. She added that the tight labor market makes finding a contractor on short notice difficult.
The total price tag is now over $1 million, which Finance Director Stephen Curtiss said is still lower than what the city had initially estimated. Funding for demolition comes from the library facilities capital fund, which is separate from the library system’s operating budget. It will eventually be reimbursed through the sale of redevelopment bonds.
Opponents to the amendment questioned transparency in the process, a running theme throughout the library project. Opponent Sarah Johnson said people have become “disillusioned” with the lack of communication from the city.
Some on Twitter have also criticized seemingly slow construction of new library facilities to replace the downtown location.
Councilmember Vinny Palermo echoed opponents’ concerns, but said the change order was necessary.
“There’s been a lot of extra costs associated because of an aggressive timeline,” Palermo said. “But what we have in front of us today, for the first time, I will say is not because of that.”
The City Council unanimously approved the sale of city property at 24th and Lake Streets to North Omaha Music and Arts for use as a music education and performance facility, along with $415,000 in funding from the American Rescue Plan to cover the cost.
The City Council also approved agreements with several private contractors to oversee snow plow removal this winter, totaling up to $300,000. Councilmember Palermo opposed the agreements, arguing that they should pay city employees instead of using private contractors. The motion passed 4-3.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to vote in favor of keeping the property tax rate at 0.29559. Due to rising property valuations, most residents’ tax bills will go up.
Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh made a motion to reduce the tax rate by one cent, which no other commissioner supported. Cavanaugh said property tax bills would be reduced by over $5.7 million.
“Your property tax bill increases even if you don’t raise the mill levy,” Cavanaugh said. “So you have to lower the mill levy to lower the property tax bill.”
Multiple commissioners agreed that property taxes are high, but they said it was a state-level issue. Commissioner P.J. Morgan said they need the tax revenue to cover pay increases for county employees and address staffing issues.
“We’re mandated to make sure we have the safety,” Morgan said. “And with the sheriff’s office, corrections facility, 911, we’re having to give pay increases to make sure we’re operating at full capacity for everyone’s safety.”