Douglas County’s plan to move to a new juvenile center continued to divide the County Board Tuesday as Commissioners approved a resolution 5-2 to keep the current facility open until the population is reduced, delaying the move into the new, smaller facility. 

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The resolution will require the average population at the Douglas County Youth Center (DCYC) reduce to the operational capacity of the new Youth and Family Support Center for six consecutive months before the transition can take place. 

The Youth and Family Support Center has 64 beds. DCYC Superintendent Brad Alexander said operational capacity is typically around 80%, which would mean a population of about 52. Boys and girls also have to be separated, further complicating the number of beds that may be available at any given time.

The transition was originally set to begin in November, but Commissioner Roger Garcia said it’s unlikely they could reduce the population in time. He said the current population at DCYC is more than 70, though it can fluctuate day-to-day, peaking as high as 89 earlier this year. 

“We’re not making up the scenario where spikes do occur. We don’t want to get down to 54, 52 tomorrow or in December and all of a sudden we spike up to 65, 70,” Garcia said. “And if we’re fully transitioned to a smaller facility…what are we going to do in that scenario?”

Garcia said Douglas County youths may get sent to other jurisdictions, even other states, if they don’t have enough capacity at the juvenile center. He said the resolution would give them more time to get numbers down.

Commissioner Chris Rodgers, who voted against the resolution, said the six-month delay is unnecessary. He said they are on track with the measures outlined in a resolution passed by the County Board in May to reduce the population at DCYC by the end of the year.

“If we get to the end of this in November and we need more time, I will join with you with a resolution to keep it open an extra month,” Rodgers said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Rodgers said there are ongoing discussions with the state probation office and other service providers on programs that would help detention numbers.

Several proponents spoke in support of the resolution, including Douglas County Sheriff Aaron Hansen and County Attorney Don Kleine. Kleine said that detention capacity is important as violent crime rises among youth in Omaha.

“I talk to victims’ families, I talk to parents of youths who commit crimes, I talk to foster parents and they tell me there need to be consequences,” Kleine said. “And at least initially these young people sometimes need to be detained for their own safety and public safety.”

Multiple parents of crime victims spoke in support of the resolution, including Amber Wood, who said her daughter was killed by people who had been involved in the juvenile justice system. 

“My daughter was murdered by people who grew up in a system that’s broken,” Wood said. “These kids are screaming for help and not detaining them is not giving them help.

City Budget Hearing

The Omaha City Council also met Tuesday to hold a public hearing on the 2024 recommended city budget and the 2024-2029 Capital Improvement Program.

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Multiple opponents to the budget called for property taxes to be cut further. Mayor Jean Stothert proposed a 2% reduction in the city’s property tax levy, but opponent Linda Boers said the cut was “minuscule” compared to how much her property’s valuation has increased.

“The city has been taking advantage of increased valuations versus lowering the levy to neutralize extreme valuation increases,” Boers said. “Be mindful of the growing tax burden on all City taxpayers, especially retirees such as myself.”

Other opponents took issue with the police budget, which is set to increase by 4% compared to last year and could increase further if the police union and City Council approve a pay increase for police officers.

Kyra Britt said she understands that the city wants to recruit and retain more officers, but the city should instead invest in public services to address the root issues of crime. She said improving access to public education and safety at public facilities like parks and libraries have been shown to reduce crime.

Isabella Manhart said if the police budget increases the money should go toward expanding the mental health co-responder program. They said there are only seven co-responders on staff, which means they aren’t available 24/7.

Manhart, a resident of former Councilmember Vinny Palermo’s District 4, said it isn’t fair that South Omaha isn’t being represented in budget discussions. They asked the vote on the budget be delayed until a new councilmember is selected, which won’t happen until the end of September.

Former City Council candidate Rebecca Barrientos-Patlan, a proponent to the budget, also said District 4 needs representation to make sure the community’s needs are met in the budget process. She thanked the City Council for working to represent South Omaha, but maintained that they would have received more if they had a representative.

“I would hope the next person in District 4 would be able to see the needs for improvement in our area,” Barrientos-Patlan said.

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