Omaha City Council approves streetcar, affordable housing plans

Council voted 6-1 on the $360 million bond ordinance for the streetcar; affordable housing plan passed, but amendments failed
The Omaha City Council has approved the streetcar project
Published: Dec. 13, 2022 at 4:17 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Omaha City Council move two big projects forward on Tuesday, passing the streetcar project and an affordable housing plan.

Ahead of the 6-1 streetcar vote, council members wanted assurances that the streetcar project would not result in the Metropolitan Utilities District raising rates on customers.

While the law department said the city had several positive meetings with MUD, and felt assured there wouldn’t be a negative impact on ratepayers, MUD would not give a guarantee.

“We certainly share in a goal,” MUD General Counsel Mark Mendenhall said. “...What I’m able to say is we’re here and we’re going to work with the city.”

Mayor Jean Stothert’s office said last week that there would be a fair cost split between the city and the utility. Omaha Finance Director Steve Curtis reinforced this Tuesday, saying, “We’ve identified two buckets — who pays what. I think it will be a fair split between the city and MUD; I think at the end of the day we will not see a rate increase.”

Stothert has said the streetcar can be built without a tax increase, and that the taxes created from those who want to build along the route are expected to cover it.

But Councilwoman Aimee Melton, who represents Dist. 7, said Tuesday that she had been receiving emails from people worried their tax dollars are going to fund the project. In actuality, investors buying the bonds will be supporting the project — not taxpayers.

The lease purchase of $80 million will be paid for with TIF money, which comes from the developers. Technically, that would be backed by taxpayers; so if no development happens there — which all involved have said is extremely unlikely — then it would fall on taxpayers.

And just because the city has permission doesn’t mean it will issue all of the bonds; it will be done at different stages.

The Omaha streetcar line would go from 42nd and Farnam streets to downtown, using Harney Street most of the way. It would loop around The RiverFront and head to the convention center on 10th Street before heading back again on Farnam Street.

Besides securing the bonds, the next step for the Streetcar Authority is to determine whether to make a combined order for six streetcars.

Affordable housing

The council voted 5-2 on Tuesday to pass the city’s Affordable Housing Plan, with Melton and Councilman Brinker Harding, representing Dist. 6, voting no.

But all four amendments to the plan failed.

The City Council addresses affordable housing

The city was up against a year-end deadline from the state to get a plan on the books.

While the framework is now approved, the details about how to increase affordable housing options in Omaha still needs to be worked out.

Other topics

The City Council also passed a resolution to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to update the Hitchcock Park swimming pool. The resolution, authorizing more than $82,000 for the project, passed unanimously.

Funds are discussed to improve a pool

Part of the plan is to take out the high dive, which has been unusable for years. The facility is more than 40 years old; part of the updates would also go to infrastructure and improved safety.

The council was also considering funding for renovations at Pipal and Mandan parks.

Also on the agenda: El Pollo Tote also has its liquor license up for renewal. Neighbors have complained of loud noises late at night and trash scattered through the area.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the district of representation for Councilwoman Melton and the wrong dissenting vote alongside her for the affordable housing plan. 6 News regrets the error.

Reporter Brian Mastre, Assistant News Director Cassie Crowe, Digital Director Gina Dvorak, and Digital Producer Zane Culjat contributed to this story.