BUDGET HEARINGS BEGIN, MEMBERS CALL FOR MORE PUBLIC SAFETY FUNDING, FEDERAL RECOVERY SPENDING
City Council’s detailed examination of Mayor Kenney’s proposed $5.6 Billion operating budget proposal for FY2023 began this week.
A consensus emerged quickly in Council on Wednesday: The city must spend more on violence prevention and public safety, as a gun violence epidemic continues to rage, and the city should spend more Federal stimulus dollars than currently budgeted, to spark a broader economic recovery across the city.
The lead witnesses on day one of the hearings were Jim Engler, Mayor Kenney’s chief of staff; Rob Dubow, city Finance Director; and Marisa Waxman, city Budget Director. For over four hours, Councilmembers grilled the administration witnesses over what the proposed budget contains to prevent gun violence, improve public safety, and lift other parts of the city economically.
“We need to use more federal stimulus spending now, and do it with a sense of urgency,” said Council Majority Leader Cherelle L. Parker (9th District).
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (3rd District), spoke of chronic problems associated with blight, trash, illegal short dumping, and abandoned cars – calling it historic “disinvestment in Black and brown communities” – and said the city has to do more than “investing in drips and drabs” to confront such quality-of-life problems.
Budget Director Waxman noted the administration is proposing an 18.5 percent increase in spending on community-based violence prevention programs ($184 Million), but Gauthier countered, saying the city should spend $250 Million more than it currently proposes to reduce violence.
“We must do more than what we’re doing,” said Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District), whose North and Northwest Philadelphia district is plagued by gun violence and quality of life concerns. “Covering our bases is not working in our city right now.”
Gun violence prevention and quality of life issues weren’t the only issues that Councilmembers raised on the first day of hearings.
“Not a single library in our city is open on weekends,” Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) said to the administration witnesses. “I’m going to challenge the Parks & Recreation budget as well.”
When mayoral chief of staff Engler pointed out that the administration was well aware of the city’s many needs, but that it needed to consider available resources as well, Gym replied, “If we only look at our resources, we will never meet our needs.”
On and on it went, throughout the day. Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson (At Large), who has made quality-of-life issues such as drug paraphernalia stores signature issues during her first term, recited problem store after store, a dearth of qualified Licenses & Inspections inspectors to crack down on these businesses, and then urged the administration: “Spend more, hire more.”
The next hearing date for city departments is Wednesday, April 13, when Council will hear testimony on the proposed budgets for the Department of Human Services, the Office of Homeless Services, Public Health and Behavioral Health.
The public can watch city department heads testifying on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40, and streaming at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) framed what he sees at stake in the budget process in a statement released following the budget’s introduction.
“These are urgent times in Philadelphia,” Clarke said. “These are our priorities as Council begins its hearings: What does every line in this budget do to lift people out of poverty, make communities safe, prevent gun violence, develop affordable housing, and ensure job opportunities for our citizens?”
COUNCILMEMBER DOMB RESOLUTION CALLS ON GOVERNOR, MAYOR TO DECLARE STATE OF EMERGENCY IN KENSINGTON OVER OPIOID EPIDEMIC
Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large) this week introduced a resolution calling on Mayor Kenney, Governor Wolf and the General Assembly to declare a state of emergency in the Kensington neighborhood. The order would bring a multi-jurisdictional operation and financial approach to the humanitarian disaster in an area that is home to the worst urban opioid crisis in America.
An emergency declaration would allow the city to seek available relief resources from state and federal governments through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency to address the crisis in Kensington and its 19134 zip code, which leads the city in overdose-related deaths. Over the last four years, the city has averaged almost 1,200 lives lost annually to overdose deaths.
“The situation in Kensington is a humanitarian disaster,” Domb said Thursday in Council as he explained his resolution, introduced with co-sponsors, Councilmembers Maria Quiñones Sánchez (7th District) and Mark Squilla (1st District), whose districts encompass Kensington.
“Despite the city’s countless efforts and those efforts made by so many amazing community-based organizations and residents, we must acknowledge that our approach isn’t getting the results Kensington deserves,” Domb said. “This has become a disaster area of epic proportions – a disaster that requires relief efforts that far exceed the capacity and resources of City government. “
The neighborhood surrounding the Kensington Avenue corridor has for decades languished under the weight of a thriving drug trade along with criminal activity, violence driven by territorial illegal drug sales, and people experiencing substance use disorders, mental illness and homelessness.
“Kensington is subjected to conditions unimaginable anywhere else in Philadelphia,” said Councilmember Sánchez. “We need all hands-on deck, at every level of government, to support neighbors and families and address this public health and safety crisis with meaningful relief measures, policy change, and restorative community investments.”
“We must explore every option and think outside of the box in order to get the Kensington and Harrowgate neighborhoods every possible resource to address the neighborhood issues and the opioid crisis that have arisen because of failed policies that have been allowed to fester for years,” said Councilmember Squilla. “We are fully committed to addressing our resident’s quality of life issues but require assistance beyond what the city itself can handle.”
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…
Join us as we celebrate the 5th annual Black Maternal Health Week!
— CouncilmemberKGR (@CouncilwomanKGR) April 7, 2022
IN OTHER NEWS…
Councilmembers Honor Philadelphians’ Achievements in the Arts and Collegiate Sports. It was a week to honor Philadelphia natives for significant achievements in the worlds of arts and culture as well as collegiate sports. Councilmember Gilmore Richardson introduced a resolution on Council President Clarke’s behalf, honoring a trio of Philadelphia-based artists for winning an Oscar and four Grammy Awards. Quest Love, a.k.a. Ahmir Thompson, University of the Arts alum, famed Philly DJ, drummer and founding member of the Roots, won an Oscar and a Grammy for his directorial debut with the documentary, Summer of Soul.
Next, Jazmine Sullivan, a singer-songwriter and North Philadelphia native from Strawberry Mansion, won her first Grammy for Best R&B Album, as well as Best Vocal Performance. And, the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, was awarded a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance.
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At Large) then introduced a resolution on Council President Clarke’s behalf, honoring North Philly’s own Dawn Staley, for coaching the South Carolina Women’s Basketball Team to the NCAA Championship – her second national title at South Carolina.
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, April 21 , 2022 at 10 a.m. The Meeting will be held remotely due to the ongoing pandemic, and will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.
Photo: Jared Piper/PHLCouncil