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City Council

Climate action plan, bike lane budget amendments find mixed support on Omaha City Council

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Take a look at the seven current members of the Omaha City Council.

In the great debate over Omaha’s 2023 city budget, funding for local nonprofits saw wide support while a resolution on a climate action plan proved far more divisive among City Council members and residents.

The climate action plan and proposed support for a permanent protected bike lane dominated public discussion as the City Council decided Tuesday how to spend money earmarked by Mayor Jean Stothert for council members to direct to their preferred community programs.

Overall, Stothert has proposed a $474 million general fund budget.

City Council President Pete Festersen put forward the amendment seeking to secure funding for the development of a climate action plan. Festersen has expressed frustration with the city’s lack of progress on developing a plan since the council first voiced support for it in November 2021. His proposal is intended to speed up that process, though he acknowledged Tuesday that it is largely symbolic.

Still, it narrowly passed with support from the Democratic members on the City Council: Festersen, Vinny Palermo, Juanita Johnson and Danny Begley. Republicans Don Rowe, Aimee Melton and Brinker Harding voted against the climate change amendment.

A separate resolution co-sponsored by Festersen and Rowe in support of the city’s first protected bike lane was delayed until next week’s council meeting to allow for slight changes. However, it appeared to have support from a majority of council members.

The changes came at the request of Harding, who suggested striking part of the proposal that placed partial responsibility for the bike lane on the Omaha Streetcar Authority.

Jay Noddle, president of the Streetcar Authority, said the authority isn’t best equipped to evaluate potential routes for the bike lane, but he again expressed support for continuance of the bikeway.

The city officially opened its first protected bike lane, known as the Market to Midtown Bikeway, in July 2021. The 2-mile, two-way lane is protected by bollards and set between the curb and parallel parking spaces. It’s not permanent, though. The city created the bike lane as part of an 18-month pilot program.

Council members last year tried to add money to permanently fund a protected bike lane, but they didn’t have the votes to override a veto from Stothert.

The resolution introduced Tuesday urges the city’s Public Works Department and the Streetcar Authority to work with Metro Smart Cities and Bike Walk Nebraska in evaluating the pilot program and considering options to extend and fund a permanent project.

The bike lane proposal could be headed for a wall, with the Mayor’s Office signaling a potential veto on the item. Stothert previously told The World-Herald that she would likely veto the bike lane amendment if it resembled last year’s failed proposal.

Her office also tossed cold water on the climate plan amendment, noting that efforts to develop a climate action plan are already underway.

That process has moved slowly.

When council members expressed support for developing a metro-wide plan to address climate change in November 2021, they were told that a request for proposal (RFP) would be created and issued within a couple of months.

An RFP still hasn’t been formally issued.

Festersen and several proponents repeated their frustrations Tuesday over the lack of progress, though the Mayor’s Office said a draft RFP was finished and slated for consideration on Sept. 21.

Funding for the climate action plan is planned to come from a mix of public and private dollars.

The exact cost of developing the plan hasn’t yet been determined, but Festersen previously told The World-Herald that he has heard estimates between $200,000 and $300,000.

Instead of sticking with the original funding plan, Festersen’s resolution proposes using a surplus in the city’s 2022 budget to fund the climate plan, cutting down on the time needed to move it forward.

Festersen noted that the City Council doesn’t have the power to independently pull the funding needed for the action plan — that would require the mayor’s approval. Festersen said the ultimate purpose of the amendment is to reaffirm the council’s support for the development of a climate plan.

Tom Warren, chief of staff with the Mayor’s Office, told council members that the city wouldn’t be able to take action on the resolution because the hiring of a consultant likely wouldn’t take place until 2023.

“So, funding couldn’t be pulled from the 2022 surplus,” Warren said.

While the climate action plan and bike lane support prompted lengthy discussion, a number of other amendments flew through the council with unanimous support.

Melton’s proposal for an additional $25,000 to Rejuvenating Women to support the organization’s efforts to fight human trafficking and provide victim support services was unanimously approved.

“(Sex trafficking) is not a black van that kidnaps someone from a park,” Melton said. “It is happening in our city, and we need places like Rejuvenating Women because we don’t have a lot of resources for sex trafficking victims unfortunately.”

Other budget amendments unanimously approved Tuesday included:

$50,000 to the city’s Parks Department to help fund an accessible, inclusive playground at Zorinsky Lake.

$14,500 for the replacement of deteriorating asphalt on the Happy Hollow Trail.

$50,000 for the North Saddle Creek Neighborhood Business Improvement District streetscape project.

$50,000 allocation to the Omaha Sports Commission.

$26,000 to Police Athletics for Community Engagement.

$6,000 to Football for the World Foundation.

$6,000 to South Omaha Classic Our Lady of Guadalupe Youth Sports.

$6,000 to Junior Packers.

$6,000 to Midwest Trailblazers.

$50,000 to the nonprofit Keep Omaha Beautiful.

$10,000 to the Collective for Youth.

$40,000 to the Nebraska Center for Workforce Development and Education.

The council unanimously approved the amended budget and capital improvement program. Stothert now has the option to veto any of the amendments approved Tuesday. The council would need five of seven votes to override a mayoral veto.

jwade@owh.com, 402-444-1067

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Jessica covers city issues for The World-Herald, including public parks, transportation, Omaha City Council and the Mayor's Office. Follow her on Twitter @Jess_Wade_OWH. Phone: 402-444-1067

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