Omaha Council Approves Mayor’s 2017 Budget


August 24th, 2016

The Omaha City Council meets Tuesdays at 2pm. (Photo by Ryan Robertson)

The Omaha City Council meets Tuesdays at 2pm. (Photo by Ryan Robertson)

During their regular weekly meeting yesterday, Omaha City Council Members approved the Mayor Jean Stothert’s 2017 budget.

The Mayor submitted her $917 million budget to Omaha City Council Members last month. On Tuesday, the Council unanimously approved it, but not before making a few amendments.

Council Members Chris Jerram and Garry Gernandt co-sponsored an amendment that would move a little more than $62,000 from the City’s contingency reserve account to the Parks and Recreation Department.

The money will be used to fund a new 4-week summer camp at Hanscom Park for kids living in South and South Central Omaha. Currently, the Parks Department doesn’t run any summer camps in those areas; an issue which doesn’t sit well with Councilman Jerram.

Councilman Jerram said, “When you learn of a policy that provides recreational opportunities to everyone but those who are disproportionately poor and Hispanic in minority communities, you must and you’re called to do something about it. Like it or not, the funding policies of our city have created recreational opportunities for some to their benefit while depriving others to equal access to summer recreation.”

After some heated debate about whether the Parks Department should run a pilot program first to see if a 4-week summer camp at Hanscom Park would be successful, the Council voted to amend the amendment by Councilman Jerram, and will allocate the money for the camp in two installments. The second installment will be distributed only if the first two weeks of the Hanscom Park summer camp are deemed successful.

Another amendment to Mayor Stothert’s budget would see an additional $21,500 go to the City’s ReConnect Program, which helps people coming out of prison find a job.

Council President Ben Gray sponsored the amendment, and called the ReConnect Program one of the more successful programs in the City.

Gray said, “When you have a program that you know or you have seen the documentation that shows it works, and shows there is potential for it to work even better with a few more dollars, the City has an obligation to invest in these kinds of programs to see what they do, because if they are successful, others in the community will pick them up.

Omaha Police Department’s Police Athletics Community Engagement program, or PACE, also received more funding thanks to an amendment sponsored by Councilman Pete Festersen.

Festersen said, “Given what we’re experiencing throughout the country, I think cities are looking to enhance their violence prevention and police/community relations efforts. That was also an important message we heard during our public hearing on the budget a few weeks ago, and it occurs to me there is an organization in town that is doing fantastic work along those lines and that is the PACE organization. So this budget amendment would propose $20,000 to support their annual operations.”

More than 2000 at-risk youth currently participate in PACE, playing soccer and baseball.

Officer Antonio Espejo started PACE after joining OPD’s Gang Unit in 2004

Espejo told the Council, “Our idea is not to have that NFL star come back and give back to the neighborhood, that’s a great story. What we want to do is we want to produce good citizens. We want these kids to take things that maybe aren’t taught at their home or maybe at school—values, preparation, consistency—things like that that have made us successful as police officers. We want to be able to pass those on to these kids. We want them to be good citizens. We want them to be good fathers, good mothers. We want them to participate in their children’s sports and give advice to other peoples’ kids as we gave advice to them. That’s what we’re about. That’s how we’re trying to change all of Omaha now.”

Not all of the proposed budget amendments passed. Councilman Jerram wanted to take some of the money from the Mayor’s property tax relief proposal and apply it towards street repair. However, that amendment failed to garner the five votes necessary to pass. Even if it did, Mayor Stothert said she would have vetoed it.

For her part, the Mayor was happy with the amendments passed by the Council, which amounted to just over $100,000.

Mayor Stothert said, “[The amendments] were additions to the budget; [the Council] took money out of reserve to do these. They weren’t amending any of the departments’ budgets. I think it just shows how this budget process that we’ve been using since I’ve been mayor is really working. It shows that we work with the departments to develop the budget and we work with the City Council members to get their input on the budget. It just shows a lot of good, bi-partisan working together for the betterment of the community.”

While it took up most of their time Tuesday, the budget wasn’t the only item discussed by Council members. They also unanimously passed a resolution in support of a combined crime lab in which the City would partner with Douglas County,  the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Nebraska Organ Recovery System. Council members passed the resolution in hopes of showing the other possible partners that the City is committed to the idea.

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