Months of testimony, name-calling and questions about a Douglas County courthouse annex and juvenile justice center ended Tuesday in an Omaha City Council vote that lets the project move ahead.

But even the vote offered some drama.

Councilman Vinny Palermo, who said he “leaned yes” both before and after the vote, abstained. He did so after it became clear that the measure authorizing $114 million in bonds for construction would pass.

Palermo said he was trying to send backers of the juvenile justice center a message to include more voices from South Omaha in their discussions.

He also acknowledged the influence of several conversations with leaders of the Omaha police union, who have said they oppose the project because it provides too few detention beds for young offenders.

“The police association and their side on this weighed heavily with me,” Palermo said.

His decision left Councilman Rich Pahls, a former school principal who represents southwest Omaha, as the decisive fourth vote.

Pahls, who had not previously taken a position, said he backed the measure because his career taught him the value of investing early in kids.

Palermo’s decision left the measure vulnerable to a veto by Mayor Jean Stothert. But the mayor said in a statement Tuesday that she would let the measure take effect without her signature.

A measure would need five votes on the seven-member council to override a mayoral veto. Tuesday’s proposal allowing the Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission to issue the bonds passed the council 4-2.

Stothert, in a statement, offered several reasons for withholding her signature, including that construction-related debt will increase property taxes.

Douglas County property taxpayers would pay the debt through rent the county would pay to the Building Commission.

The county has estimated that building the courthouse annex and juvenile justice center near 18th and Harney Streets downtown will require another 1.5 cents per $100 in assessed property value. That would cost the owner of a $200,000 house about $30 a year.

Jim Cavanaugh, the County Board’s only opponent of the project, said the mayor should reconsider her stance, because, “if she does not veto it, then she approves it, which means she approves the tax increase.”

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The county’s proposal would erect an eight-story tower and renovate the current Metropolitan Utilities District headquarters into space for juvenile courts and related services, attorneys and juvenile probation.

Stothert, in her statement, echoed Councilwoman Aimee Melton’s comments that the courthouse annex is sorely needed and has public support. That part of the project would cost $92 million.

The second, more controversial part calls for a four-story juvenile detention center connected to the courthouse annex. That would cost $22 million after a $5 million conditional pledge from the Sherwood Foundation. Sherwood also is conditionally pledging $5 million for programs for youth and families.

The juvenile justice facility would replace the county’s current juvenile detention center near 42nd Street and Poppleton Avenue. The new one would have space to hold up to 64 young offenders. The current facility has a capacity of 96, and typically holds 75 to 80 young people.

“Progress has been made over many months on the programmatic needs of the juvenile justice project,” Stothert said. “However, I am very concerned that too few beds will be available in the new detention facility to address future needs, including city growth.”

Three of the council members who voted for the measure — Chris Jerram, Pete Festersen and Pahls — mentioned the importance of deferring to the county’s expertise on juvenile justice.

The fourth council supporter, Ben Gray, called a one-stop shop for juvenile justice downtown a “no-brainer.” Gray, who represents north Omaha, has long advocated investing more in helping young people who commit crimes.

Proponents have said changes in state laws and more programs will reduce the number of young people in detention and how long they’re held. They contend that the project will reduce the use of detention further by making juvenile court processes more efficient and by inspiring further reforms.

Opponents have said the proposed detention center would be too small and doesn’t belong downtown. Some of the critics say the county should renovate its current juvenile detention center. Opponents also have criticized the county’s use of a private, nonprofit development corporation to oversee the construction and say residents should get to vote on the bonds.

Both council members who voted against the measure, Melton and Brinker Harding, said they wanted to see more data and results from increased programming for juvenile offenders before building a new building.

Melton, a lawyer who has worked on juvenile justice cases, said she supported the vast majority of the project’s aims, in particular its emphasis on helping families intervene with children before it’s too late.

“This is about families,” she said.

Douglas County Board Chairman Chris Rodgers said he was “thankful to the council and all those involved for the opportunity to try to improve the system.”

“This is not really a time for celebration,” Rodgers said. “The building is the easy part. Now begins a more complex discussion where everybody’s going to have to look internally at what we’re doing and see what we can do better.”

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.