Omaha police helicopter

The Omaha police helicopter Able-1 over Stinson Park in September 2016.

Omaha’s fleet of police helicopters and their pilots are getting a new home.

The City Council on Tuesday voted 5-1 to approve an agreement to house the city’s air support unit at the Blair Airport.

Councilman Vinny Palermo voted against the proposal, saying he worried that moving ABLE-1, which stands for airborne law enforcement, farther north would mean longer response times to his South Omaha constituents.

“I’m not going to be the one saying, hey, we’re sorry we didn’t get to your grandparent or your kid as soon as possible,” Palermo said.

Police acknowledged that the direct flight distance between the North Omaha Airport, which the police helicopters have long worked out of, and the Blair Airport is between 2½ and 3 minutes, assuming the helicopter is going 115 mph.

But police argued that the increase didn’t pose a threat to public safety. In fact, the Blair Airport, they said, would be closer for some residents. Deputy Chief of Police Kerry Neumann noted that most police calls are made in the northwest part of the city because of its higher population.

Council Vice President Chris Jerram said he took police at their word that the move would have no negative effect on public safety.

Neumann said he was pleased by the council’s approval. The move should take place in the spring, he said.

John Green, an attorney for Keith Edquist, the owner of the North Omaha Airport, said he was disappointed. He had argued that Edquist would have offered a less-expensive plan at his airport, which is outside the city limits but within the city’s planning jurisdiction.

During a public hearing last week, the city had described a deteriorating relationship between police and Edquist and said the North Omaha Airport hangar had problems including a leaking roof. Green on Tuesday said the roof was a warranty-related problem and was remedied.

Under the new agreement with Blair, Omaha will pay $36,000 annually, or $3,000 per month, for five years. After that, the lease will grow to $37,200 per year for three years, then increase every three years by $100 a month. The plan also calls for the City of Omaha to spend $1.2 million in city bond dollars to remodel the Blair hangar.

Blair officials have already approved the lease agreement. The Blair Municipal Airport is in Washington County between Bennington and Fort Calhoun. It is owned by the City of Blair and operated by the Blair Airport Authority.

In other business:

  • The council approved an $80,000 contract to replace carpet at the Omaha Public Library’s Benson branch. The library will close for about six weeks during installation, but Library Director Laura Marlane said officials will try to have some library functions, such as holds, available in a front area.
  • The council delayed action on the city’s 2019 legislative priorities. One proposal would change when evidence, such as transcripts and exhibits, is publicly released when a grand jury indicts a police officer.