City of Omaha Outlines Current, Proposed Cuts

By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

The City of Omaha and other Douglas County municipalities, along with advocates for rental assistance and South Omaha, are requesting that the Douglas County Board of Commissioners share a portion of federal relief funding related to COVID-19.

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners discussed Tuesday how to allocate federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding. The federal government is giving money to states and counties, as well as cities with populations of 500,000 or more – a threshold that the City of Omaha currently falls short of.

Omaha submitted a request to the County Board totaling $71.8 million in expenses related to the coronavirus, which includes $2.5 million in losses related to the College World Series cancelation, a $1.1 million missed property tax payment from the downtown city-owned Hilton Hotel and the city’s costs for providing police and fire services during the pandemic.

A submission to the board also details the city’s cost reductions so far, which total $22.7 million, and additional cuts under consideration, which total $17.4 million.

Among the cuts so far are:

• Implementing a hiring freeze, $2.5 million

• Reducing general fund budgets, $5 million

• Eliminating part-time hours in parks, $1.5 million

• Eliminating part-time hours in libraries, $1.3 million

• Limiting overtime for Fire Department, $1.2 million

• Limiting overtime for Police Department, $1 million

• Canceling summer camps, $300,000

• Canceling neighborhood grants, $105,000

Mayor Jean Stothert said at a news conference last Friday that the city’s initial actions have been taken without knowing how much CARES funding it will receive.

“Our budget needs to be balanced by the end of the year, and we can’t wait too much longer,” Stothert said.

The city is also considering:

• Stopping recycling for six months, $850,000

• Not opening libraries, including full time staff reductions, $3.1 million

• Not opening swimming polls, $1.29 million

• Not opening community centers, $670,000

• Not opening ice rink, $200,000

• Reducing parks full-time hours, $1.34 million

• Reducing police staffing by 10%, $3.3 million

• Reducing fire staffing by 10%, $2.37 million

• Canceling community service spending, $1 million

• Canceling summer jobs program funding, $500,000

• Layoffs and furloughs in other departments by 20%, $2.86 million

“These are all things that we have to consider,” Stothert said. “These are things that we don’t want to do but would be options if we don’t receive any relief.”

The county’s other municipalities are also seeking support for COVID-19 expenses, and a group of organizations that include Legal Aid of Nebraska and Nebraska Appleseed asked the county to consider providing tenant-based rental assistance with a portion of its CARES allocation.

“We cannot ask our vulnerable neighbors to stay at home if they do not have a home in which to stay,” the advocacy groups wrote in a letter to the County Board.

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