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

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to make adjustments to the county budget and allocated funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to mental health initiatives.

When the county’s 2021/2022 budget was approved, $2.1 million were allocated for salary adjustments to county employees. On Tuesday, the board approved another $1.7 million, bringing the total to $3.8 million.

Douglas County Finance Director Joe Lorenz said market demands in the fall led to increased pay rates for most employees at the Douglas County Health Center and Community Mental Health Center. 

Many departments needed one-time adjustments. The county will need another $345,000 for public properties because of the increase in gas prices. Environmental Services was allocated another $5 million, but Lorenz said that will mostly be offset by revenue from the contaminated soil program.

County administration received another $3.3 million from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program, transferred from the state to the county. Lorenz said the additional money should last through September when the program expires. The county expects another $8 million from the second round of the ERA program, which would fund it through 2025.

Gov. Pete Ricketts has said he will not request a second round of funding for the state, saying it would make Nebraska a “welfare state.” The Legislature passed a bill Wednesday to require that Nebraska accept the $120 million, but it lacks the votes to avoid a veto. The deadline for the state to apply is March 31.

The board also approved increased premium pay for many county employees, funded by transferring nearly $7.7 million from the county’s ARPA account to various departments. 

“We made a choice to use some of the ARPA money that we received for premium pay for people in public health and public safety,” Lorenz said.

About $3 million went to the health department, and the rest went to public safety and communications. Lorenz said the premium pay is only sustainable thanks to ARPA, and it would require another funding source to continue after funds expire. The amount might increase in the future depending on how much overtime county employees work.

The board also allocated ARPA funding to various mental health projects. The board previously approved $17.5 million for each commissioner to decide on proposals. Board Chair Mary Ann Borgeson spent $500,000 of her allocation to fund mental health initiatives at Millard Public Schools.

Millard Director of Student Services Bill Jelkin said the money would help bring services directly to students and provide training for staff. Jelkin said they’ve seen a drastic rise in student mental health concerns because of the pandemic, especially for low-income students.

“The need was there prior to COVID,” Borgeson said. “But we all know that COVID exacerbated a whole bunch of problems.”

Borgeson also moved for $60,000 to be allocated to the Volunteer Lawyers Project to provide legal assistance to people with degenerative mental health diagnoses.

Commissioner Mike Friend spent $1.3 million of his allocation Tuesday, including $800,000 to Ronald McDonald House to fund a new treatment center in Omaha. The state health department will work with the center to research social determinants of health and measure health outcomes of people assisted by the program.

“They come to Omaha because they’re that critically ill and our medical community can help that,” CEO Lindsey Rai Kortan said. “We come in on the hope and healing side with some very intentional programs that are affecting how their social determinants of health for the entire family can influence that diagnosis.”


Subscribe to The Reader Newsletter

Our awesome email newsletter briefing tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Omaha. Delivered to your inbox every day at 11:00am.

Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to thereader.com and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

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