Omaha Metropolis Council votes to not divest the police funds; Adopted an modification on drawing money reserves
Omaha City Council on August 18, 2020.
The Omaha City Council did not support the sale of funds from the city police department. Instead, an amendment narrowly passed drawing nearly the same amount of money from the city’s cash reserve for mental health services and vocational training.
The Council did not support the resolution put forward by Council President Chris Jerram, which would have withdrawn US $ 2 million from the police department and given the Omaha Police Department the same budget as last year.
Jerram himself said in an opening speech that he doesn’t think the resolution would have the support to pass it, much less an inevitable veto from Mayor Jean Stothert.
“We have a problem in our community … and in large part this budget resolution is helping our city break the silence about the extent of the mental health of our citizens,” Jerram said.
For some, this resolution appeared to be a punishment against OPD. Councilor Aimee Melton urged Chief Todd Schmaderer to speak to the council about the work they have done in the area of crime fighting and community police.
The city has seen fewer murders in recent years, though they’re on the rise this year. The shootings of officials are also very low, with only one in 2019. However, the number of violent crimes in the city has stabilized relatively over the past 10 years.
Schmaderer said to make up for the lost $ 2 million allocation, he would have to cut back on new vehicle purchases, cut programs, and most likely cut officers.
Councilor Ben Gray said he did not support this resolution, to the horror of many voters, precisely because he was afraid who would have to fire Schmaderer. During his tenure on the council, Gray said the diversity in the department had grown significantly. If any of these officials were to lose their jobs, it would undo years of work.
Councilor Pete Festersen said that overall this budget does not meet Omaha’s needs. While he said it was evident that the council would not support taking money from the police, he suggested taking $ 1.8 from the city’s cash reserve. $ 1.5 million would continue to be used for community mental health resources and $ 350,000 would be used on Heartland Workforce Resolutions – $ 150,000 less than Jerram’s resolution would have allocated them.
He said while some say it is not advisable to take money from the city’s rainy days fund during a pandemic, it is not a good excuse in the context of that budget. The budget forecast is based on property tax profits and restaurant tax revenues, which Festersen says are unlikely.
“If $ 2 million is a problem in this regard, that entire budget is a problem.”
Some did not step on this political ground and decided not to pass the resolution for these financial reasons.
Others said the conversation about mental health needs to be very pragmatic. Gray said taking $ 2 million from the police would be a “knee jerk” response. Councilor Brinker Harding said the council was unwilling to address mental health the way the community needs it.
To do this, the council would need to put together a budget, create a plan, and identify metrics to measure their success. He suggested working with the Douglas County Board using the funds of the CARES Act.
The Council passed Amendment 4-3, with Harding, Pahls and Melton voting no. The city’s budget was later passed 5-2, with Jerram and Festersen voting no.
Festersen said he still does not support this budget and does not know if his amendment can override the mayor’s veto. To do this, five members would have to support the amendment.