Omaha City Councilmember Aimee Melton was elected vice president of the council Tuesday. Council President Pete Festersen was re-elected to his position.
The council president presides over City Council meetings and acts as mayor when the mayor is out-of-town. The vice president takes over those duties when the mayor and president are both absent. The positions are elected every two years.
With the former council vice president, Vinny Palermo, currently being held in federal custody, the City Council is split between three Democrats and three Republicans. Councilmember Melton, a Republican, said the process leading up to this vote demonstrated the City Council’s ability to work together.
“I think that this process over the last week and the discussions that we’ve all had does set an example, I think, that we’re not necessarily seeing in the nation that we can actually have conversations with each other,” Melton said. “We can discuss what needs to get done and work together to do it.”
“I appreciate the message we’re sending here today about working together as a group and being nonpartisan to keep moving our city forward,” Festersen said.
Festersen thanked the City Council for the vote of confidence and for working to represent South Omaha with District 4’s representative absent.
The City Council moved forward with a study of streets in Omaha’s urban core to identify which should be reconfigured from one-way to two-way. The Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT) will pay a majority of the study’s estimated $500,000 cost, with the city contributing 20% or approximately $100,000.
Austin Rowser from the public works department said the goal is to increase walkability and accessibility downtown. He said the conversion to two-way streets will provide them greater speed control.
The City Council approved another street study for the Cuming Street, NW Radial Highway, Military Avenue corridor, with the $375,000 cost also split between NDOT and the city. The city will contribute an estimated $75,000.
City traffic engineer Jeff Riesselman said that corridor averages about one fatality a year, which is higher than average. He said the public works department will work with a consultant to identify short-term and long-term safety improvements.
“We do want to address all the different modes of transportation that are a part of this highway,” Riesselman said. “There’s lots of business districts, schools, and let’s not forget its a state highway.”
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners approved the final budget supplement — an adjustment to the previously approved county budget — for the 2022/23 fiscal year. Finance Director Joe Lorenz said the $2.2 million supplement will take the county “over the finish line” until 2023/24 fiscal year begins in July.
Less than $1 million of the adjustments were unfunded, meaning they require additional budget dollars. Those costs included salary adjustments and increases in social security and pension expenses.
The bulk of the adjustment will go to the Community Mental Health Center Fund to cover rising pharmacy costs. Lorenz said the $1.3 million increase was driven by high pharmacy costs for psychotropic medications. He said the medications are reimbursed by Medicaid at 85% of the cost, and the rest of the budget increase is offset by revenues.
The County Board also extended its agreement with Deloitte, a national company that has overseen the county’s COVID-relief spending. The extension will bring the total compensation for Deloitte to $2 million.
Deloitte was first contracted in 2020 to keep the county in compliance with federal guidelines for spending money from the CARES Act and later the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Three years later, the county still has COVID-relief money to spend.
Lorenz said the county has spent about $90 million of its total $110.8 million ARPA award, leaving about $20 million left for the County Board to allocate.
The County Board approved the one-year extension on a 6-1 vote, with Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh voting no. Cavanaugh opposed the contract from the beginning, and he said Tuesday that it was a “professional fees gravy train.”
Cavanaugh said it wasn’t until the last minute that Deloitte notified the county about the risk of a federal clawback of ARPA funds used for the proposed community mental health center, which the County Board didn’t approve.
“Literally within hours of the meeting, after a couple weeks had elapsed from the initial request, we got a preliminary report from [Deloitte] relating to the risk of clawback on a very, very expensive proposal,” Cavanaugh said. “So I’m not impressed overly impressed with their ability to actually do things in real time.”
Cavanaugh said the county could hire a local firm or work with existing county staff to provide the same services for less money.
Deloitte has also received scrutiny in a March audit from the state. The report stated Nebraska paid $3.6 million in excessive administration costs for its rent and utility-assistance program, which it paid Deloitte $14.6 million to run.
Commissioner Mike Friend said Deloitte wasn’t his first choice either, but the county hasn’t had any issues with federal clawbacks so far. He said there’s no guarantee that a local firm would perform the services better or at a lower cost.
“I would love to shut them off, but I don’t think it’s wise at this point,” Friend said.
No representatives for Deloitte were present at Tuesday’s meeting.