The legislative chambers inside the Omaha/Douglas County Civic Center.

County board

Mike Boyle’s seat in the legislative chambers was decorated with a black ribbon Tuesday as the Douglas County Board of Commissioners paid tribute to their fellow board member who died Monday.

“Mike will always be remembered for being fearless when expressing his views,” Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson said. “But most importantly he will always be known for amplifying his voice to help those in need.”

Boyle died at 77 Monday from pneumonia while recovering from surgery. Boyle was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year.

Each county commissioner honored both Boyle’s life and his legacy as a public servant, which included 24 years on the county board and two terms as Mayor of Omaha.

Another former Omaha mayor, Commissioner PJ Morgan, said it was a pleasure to work with Boyle on the county board.

Commissioner Chris Rodgers said Boyle and his wife, Anne, helped get him involved in politics in the first place. 

“I owe him a lot in that respect, and I hope to honor him in the future with those things that he cared about,” Rodgers said.

Commissioner Mike Friend said when he was first elected to the county board, he spoke with Boyle frequently. Friend, a Republican, said he appreciated that Boyle, a Democrat, never let political arguments affect his personal relationships.

Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh said he shared many laughs with Boyle “as a couple of Irishmen.” Cavanaugh knew Boyle for most of his life, and worked for Boyle’s mayoral campaign.

“We had similar senses of humor and philosophical outlook,” Cavanaugh said. “I’d just like to share…the attitude towards passing way that we both shared: He’s not really gone, he’s just gone ahead.”

The board finished off the budget process Tuesday by approving the property tax rate, or mill levy, for the fiscal year. Thanks to increased property values, the rate remained at 29.559 cents per $100. The resolution passed 6-1, with Commissioner Cavanaugh voting no.

Cavanaugh moved for an amendment to lower the property tax rate one cent lower to 28.559. He said that one cent would translate to about $5 million. Cavanaugh said the city of Omaha and Lancaster County both voted to lower their property tax levies because of rising property values.

“If we don’t change the mill levy…your property tax bill will go up,” Cavanaugh said.

Commissioner Friend said Nebraska has a broken tax system, but the board should investigate the way property values are assessed rather than change the mill levy.

County Finance Director Joe Lorenz said it wouldn’t be wise to cut the county’s revenue because of nationwide inflation. Cavanaugh disagreed that inflation would be a long-term issue, and he pointed to budget surpluses in recent years.

Cavanaugh’s amendment didn’t receive any support from his fellow commissioners, and the board set the property tax rate for 2021 at 29.559 cents.

Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse also gave a weekly COVID-19 update to the board. Huse said she had some “cautiously optimistic information” to share.

Using the Douglas County COVID-19 Dashboard, Huse showed that the 7-day case rate appeared to be dropping for the last few days. She said to be cautious because there had been instances earlier in the pandemic where cases fell from a peak before rising again. Pediatric COVID-19 cases had a slight decrease over the past week.

Metro area hospital occupancy has remained consistently high at around 80%. Huse said hospitalizations lag behind cases, so the occupancy rate likely wouldn’t decrease for a few weeks if cases are decreasing.

City Council

Agendas for the Omaha City Council from the last month have featured several resolutions to rezone lots in west and central Omaha. Council President Pete Festersen said this puts them in a tough position, as the city favors increasing density but neighbors often turn out in opposition.

Residents from the Keystone area turned out to Tuesday’s meeting to oppose a rezoning ordinance for a lot at 73rd and Pinkney streets. The city council voted to put the resolution on file instead of denying it.

“There’s a lack of answers to questions or concerns that we have, and we are getting the answer of ‘It’s being handled.’” opponent Charlotte Mai said. “And I don’t understand how that’s being handled.”

Opponents said the developer, Alvin Okereke, didn’t make his plans for the lot clear. Okereke showed the council a rendering of how his project would look, which Okereke said he showed to neighbors.

Okereke planned to build a four-unit townhome that would be consistent with other developments in the area. Okereke said he was committed to this plan, but Eric Englund from the city planning department said changes would have to be made down the line.

Englund said the plan’s parking spaces didn’t meet requirements, but that issue would be handled when Okereke applies for a building permit. Councilmember Don Rowe said he supports increasing density, but the city council needs more information.

Rowe moved for a five week layover so Okereke could come back with a more detailed plan, but Councilmember Brinker Harding said he didn’t think the situation would change in five weeks.

“I understand the neighbors’ concerns that what they’re being promised isn’t something that’s going to be what the result is,” Harding said. “I think the strategy of the request could have been re-thought.”

The city council decided to place the resolution on file instead of denying, which will allow Okereke to reapply at a later date.

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