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Workers cut down ash trees along Abbott Drive this month. The City of Omaha is removing more than 11,000 ash trees from parks and rights of way to defeat the invasive emerald ash borer. The Omaha City Council approved Mayor Jean Stothert's proposed budget after voting to add $35,000 to plant more trees to mitigate emerald ash borer damage.

The Omaha City Council voted Tuesday to approve Mayor Jean Stothert’s 2020 budget, with a little more money for trees, police athletics, job training and a housing inspector position that appears unlikely to be filled next year.

The council’s four revisions would not add to the total or the city tax rate. The council voted unanimously to approve Stothert’s proposed budget of $1.1 billion, including $419.6 million in general fund spending. The budget will keep the city’s property tax rate the same as this year, at 47.922 cents per $100 in valuation.

The council made four revisions: adding $25,000 more for Police Athletics for Community Engagement, $76,505 for an additional housing inspector, $63,000 for a youth job-training program and $35,000 to plant more trees to mitigate emerald ash borer damage to Omaha’s tree canopy.

The revisions would be covered by $200,000 in contingency money the mayor put in her proposal, Finance Director Steve Curtiss told the council.

Stothert signed the amendments to increase funding for police athletics, more trees and another housing inspector. She left unsigned the job training amendment, which allows it to go into effect, although she raised doubts about whether the program will actually receive the money.

Stothert had proposed spending $35,000 on PACE in 2020, down from the $55,000 the city gave the nonprofit organization this year.

Council Vice President Vinny Palermo pressed for more.

“There are 5,000 kids that who knows what they would be doing if they weren’t involved in this group that is giving them what they need to succeed ... putting them on the right path,” he said.

Palermo and Council President Chris Jerram had proposed giving $63,000 to the Nebraska Center for Workforce Development and Education program, run by the Omaha Federation of Labor. He said the money would help give young people skills they need to earn a good living as plumbers, electricians, carpenters and sheet metal workers.

Council member Brinker Harding said he would help Palermo get city money for the program through the normal, competitive grant process for that type of funding. But Harding voted no Tuesday because, he said, many worthy organizations had sought city funding and received less than they asked for or none at all. Council member Aimee Melton also voted no. Jerram, Pete Festersen, Ben Gray and Rich Pahls joined Palermo in voting yes.

Stothert said she has issues with the jobs program.

“They have to apply like all other community service projects,” she said. “Doesn’t mean they’ll get the money.”

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As for housing inspections, Stothert had proposed adding an additional inspector in 2020, bringing the total to 10. Festersen said adding an 11th inspector would help clear a backlog of inspections before the city’s new rental registry and inspection ordinance takes effect in 2022.

While voting for the amendment, Melton said that approving the position doesn’t mean it will actually be implemented, so it should be up to City Planning Director David Fanslau to fill the position only if he believes it is needed.

Fanslau didn’t say he would or wouldn’t, but Stothert has made clear she doesn’t believe another inspector is needed next year. Fanslau told the council that he had determined he would need five new inspectors by 2022, and he plans to hire five new inspectors by 2022.

The tree money would double the amount the city plans to spend to replace ash trees the city cuts down because of the ash borer infestation. The additional $35,000 will support a Keep Omaha Beautiful effort, Trees for Omaha, Festersen said.

Christopher Stratman, executive director of Keep Omaha Beautiful, said the effort is strategically planting native and underrepresented trees in city parks, diversifying the city’s tree canopy not only to replace lost ash trees, but also to withstand whatever the next pest is.

The council also voted to amend the city’s five-year capital improvement program to include building a long-desired Keystone Trail connection from its current northern terminus near Fort Street to Lake Cunningham.

City Parks Director Brook Bench said the Parks Department wants to build the connection and is planning for it. But Festersen wants that commitment in writing in the capital improvement program. Festersen wanted to put it in the capital improvement program for 2020 with a price tag of $3.3 million.

Melton said 2020 is unrealistic and might lead people to expect it will be built next year, when actually it will take years to complete. She proposed slotting it for 2021. Festersen embraced the compromise.

Jerram, noting the long, winding, nine-year road toward building the South Omaha Connector Trail in his district, told Melton, “Your constituents are going to love it and knowing that you’re working on it, they’re going to love you for it.”

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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.

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