CITY OF OMAHA BUDGET AMENDMENTS

The Omaha City Council wants to spend more taxpayer money replacing trees in city parks, training workers, inspecting rental housing and adding a new connection to the Keystone Trail system.

Council members are set to vote Tuesday on Mayor Jean Stothert's proposed $1.1 billion budget. They offered several amendments last week, including a change to the city's long-term plan for capital spending.

The amendments will require four votes to pass. Any that the mayor decides to veto would need flve votes for a successful override.

Stothert's $419.6 million general fund budget pays for city services, including police and flre service and streets.

Here's a roundup of what some council members want to change:

REPLACING TREES

Councilman Pete Festersen wants the city to spend $35,000 more next year to help Keep Omaha Beautiful replace more of the almost 10,000 trees being cut down in city parks.

The city's capital improvement plan for 2020 sets aside about $35,000 from bond funds for tree replacement, the Parks and Recreation Department says, so the additional funding would double that amount.

Keep Omaha Beautiful, an environmental nonproflt, has said it would try to match any additional public funds with gifts from private donors, Festersen told The World-Herald on Friday.

Its leader says it would need more funds from donors and the city to replace all of the 9,700 ash trees the city is cutting down in parks because of potential damage by the emerald ash borer.

About 1 in 7 trees are being removed from city parks, offlcials say.

Crews and volunteers are replacing removed park trees with about 19 types of trees that should diversify the canopy in Omaha and make it more resistant to a single pest.

TRAINING MORE WORKERS

City Councilman Vinny Palermo and council President Chris Jerram propose spending $63,000 in city funds on a job training program for people entering the skilled trades.

The Nebraska Center for Workforce Development and Education program, run by the Omaha Federation of Labor, would expand to serve at least 50 more kids.

The program encourages local middle school students to consider becoming an electrician, a carpenter, a plumber, a sheet metal worker or going into other trades.

It offers training so that high school students graduate having already completed a year of apprenticeship work, Palermo said.

He said he is pressing for the additional funding because Omaha businesses can't flnd enough skilled labor to do all of the construction projects and day-to-day work that needs to be done.

And with his background as a laborer, he said he has a soft spot for jobs that pay a living wage, help people put a roof over their heads and provide beneflts for their family.

"The demand is so high that people are calling me to ask us to send them workers," he said.

Stothert said she opposes the amendment because the labor group hasn't gone through the city's competitive grant process.

She said the city needs an application that details what the group would spend money on and how it would measure progress, among other things.

INSPECTING RENTAL HOUSING

A four-member majority of the seven-member council would like to see the Planning Department add an additional housing code inspector, at a cost of $76,505 a year, including beneflts.

Council President Jerram and Councilmen Ben Gray, Festersen and Palermo support the idea. They will need a flfth vote if Stothert vetoes the amendment.

Stothert's proposed budget would add a single inspector in 2020, to give the department 10. The council amendment would increase that number to 11.

Advocates for tenants in substandard housing have argued that the city needs to increase the pace at which it implements the new rental registry and inspections ordinance.

Stothert and the Planning Department have said they need only one extra inspector now because the majority of the workload changes called for by the ordinance don't take effect until 2022.

That's when the ordinance requires most rental properties in the city to be inspected at least once a decade.

Gray and Festersen have said there's enough work already with problem properties for another inspector to be added sooner than the mayor wants.

SETTING THE PACE

Several council members also want to boost city funding of the Police Athletics for Community Engagement by $25,000.

They want to increase the city's 2020 funding to $60,000 for the program, which lets kids participate in sports without charging them or their families.

City funding makes up less than 10% of the PACE budget. Private donors, sponsors and grants pay the rest. The city also lets police offlcers coach while they are on duty.

Stothert proposed spending $35,000 on the program in 2020, saying that she still supports it but that she had to make difflcult choices in the budget.

She also said she would be willing to accept a higher amount for PACE if the council approves the amendment.

Palermo, who coaches in the program, has said the investment is worth it because it builds relationships between police offlcers who coach and kids.

LINKING THE KEYSTONE TRAIL

Stothert has said during discussions about the city's longterm capital plan that the city plans to flnish a connection to the Keystone Trail in northwest Omaha and that the city hopes to get it done soon.

Festersen, who has advocated completion of the trail, proposed a $3.3 million amendment to the city's capital improvement plan to put the Parks Department's pledge in writing and aim it for 2020.

The amendment calls for flnishing four small remaining segments of the trail — connecting sections running from Fort Street to Cunningham Lake. The trail would then run from Cunningham Lake, where donors are building a trail, all the way into Sarpy County, offering a path to Offutt Air Force Base.

"Making all these connections at the same time would be a major step forward for the trail system and the quality of life in our community," Festersen said.

Committing to flnishing the trail system, Festersen said, would send a good message to young workers, many of whom decide where to move and stay based on such amenities.

The amendment does not make clear where the city would get the money. Stothert said that's her biggest problem with it and is why she says the city needs to retain the flexibility to flnish the project over a longer period of time.

Festersen said he anticipates getting the funds from a combination of donors and working with the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District. He said he also supports using city park bonds. aaron.sanderford@owh.com, 402-444-1135 twitter.com/asanderford

"The demand is so high that people are calling me to ask us to send them workers."— Omaha City Councilman Vinny Palermo, who is proposing a budget amendment for $63,000 in city funds for job training for people entering the skilled trades

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