The Douglas County Board voted Tuesday to oppose a legislative proposal to merge the crime labs of the Omaha Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff's Office.
Board member Clare Duda suggested that state lawmakers should not be getting involved in consolidation talks involving the county and Omaha.
“If we let the state do this, frankly, it's a crapshoot what they will come up with,” Duda said.
State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha has drafted a bill for the upcoming legislative session proposing to merge the two labs into an independent entity.
Under Ashford's bill, an independent five-person board would develop a consolidation plan to present to voters. The merger question would go to a vote in the May 2014 primary, Ashford said.
Board members Mary Ann Borgeson, Chris Rodgers and Pam Tusa supported Duda's resolution against the Ashford proposal. P.J. Morgan voted against it, and chairman Marc Kraft abstained. Mike Boyle was not present.
Borgeson said she remains optimistic that the county and city can reach an agreement in the coming months, without the state's involvement.
“I don't think we need the state hovering over us,” Borgeson said. “The last thing we want is for the state to tell us what to do.”
Kraft said he planned to meet with Mayor Jim Suttle and City Council President Tom Mulligan later this week to discuss the crime lab merger concept. “I believe, given enough time, we can reach an agreement between the city and county,” Kraft said.
Boyle, who asked Ashford to sponsor the legislation, said later that he doubts the board's resolution will sway Ashford to back off the proposal.
Boyle said the county board and Omaha have spent two years discussing a merger and the talks have gone nowhere.
“Why are we going to suddenly do it now?” Boyle asked.
The Douglas County Board and the Omaha City Council are extending an agreement to fund the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau for another year.
Tuesday’s action by both bodies buys time for Omaha to reorganize the convention and tourism department into a separate nonprofit entity, with a target date of 2014.
Under the new agreement between the city and county, the tourism bureau’s budget would increase to about $3.8 million, which is still significantly less than Kansas City and Milwaukee.
Based on the new agreement, the funding includes about $2.6 million from the county’s lodging tax, about $700,000 from downtown stadium taxes plus another $500,000 from the City of Omaha.
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