WEEKLY REPORT: MEMBERS PROPOSE NEW LEGISLATION TO ADDRESS CITY WORKER SHORTAGES, PROPERTY TAX CONCERNS

In Cherelle Parker, Council News, Darrell L. Clarke, Helen Gym, Jamie Gauthier, Kendra Brooks, Kenyatta Johnson, News by PHL Council

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AMID CITY WORKER SHORTAGE, COUNCILMEMBER PARKER INTRODUCES BILL TO ALLOW CITY RETIREES TO BE REHIRED AND KEEP THEIR PENSIONS

Councilwoman Cherelle Parker speaking at councilAs various city departments – from Police to Prisons to Licenses & Inspections and others – struggle with serious labor shortages fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working and a wave of retirements, Council Majority Leader Cherelle L. Parker (9th District) this week introduced legislation that would allow city government to rehire retired city workers and put them back to work, while still allowing them to collect their pensions.

Department after department have sent their commissioners into Council budget hearings over the last month, with repeated testimonies of agencies depleted by waves of retirements in 2020, 2021 and this year – and chronic shortfalls of willing replacements. City services are suffering as a result.

Parker likened the wave of retirements amid the pandemic to a “Black Swan” event – a rare and unforeseen occurrence, and proposed her solution: Retired city workers could be rehired and return to work, continue to collect their city pensions, and be paid for working again. They’d also contribute dues back into their municipal unions as well.

In order for Parker’s legislation to be implemented, the Mayor would have to declare that an extraordinary circumstance exists which threatens the public health, safety, and welfare of the City; and identify specific departments and types of employees that need to be rehired without having their pension benefits suspended. Then, Council would have to approve this declaration with a resolution.

The rehired retirees could be reemployed for up to three years. They would earn a paycheck while still receiving their monthly pension. At the same time, they would not have to pay into the pension fund, and they would not earn additional service credit under their pension plan.

The bill also amends the Philadelphia Code to clarify that any rehired retiree would have to make contributions to the applicable health and welfare fund and pay union dues during their period of rehiring.

This bill would apply to all retired employees, including retired police officers.

COUNCILMEMBER JOHNSON INTRODUCES TRIO OF BILLS TO MITIGATE IMPACT OF PROPERTY ASSESSMENT INCREASES

Calling it a “Save our Home 2022 Property Tax Relief Plan,” Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District) introduced a packet of bills this week to aid property owners facing large property reassessments across the city.

Johnson’s packet of legislation would do the following if adopted:

  • Increase Homestead Exemption amount to $90,000.
  • Expand eligibility for the Senior Tax Freeze program.
  • Make multiple changes to the Longtime Owner-Occupants Program (LOOP) to significantly increase access for low- and mid-income homeowners.
  • Mandate transparency by the City’s Office of Property Assessment.
  • Allocate at least $12 Million for the City’s rental assistance program in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.
  • Allocate at least $2.5 Million in FY2023 budget for an outreach campaign to inform Philadelphia residents about the new assessments and their options for appealing or enrolling in property tax reduction programs.
  • Allocating at least $2 Million in the FY 2023 budget for free assistance for low-income homeowners and renters in property tax cases and eviction cases.

COUNCILMEMBER BROOKS SEEKS $10 MILLION IN BUDGET TO HELP RESIDENTS RECLAIM COMMUNITY GARDENS, SIDE YARDS

Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At Large) this week launched “Restore Community Land,” a campaign to recover hundreds of community gardens, yards, and green spaces encumbered by U.S. Bank liens and on the cusp of being lost. Supporters gathered in Viola Street Garden in East Parkside, one of the many public community gardens across the city that is at risk of being sold at sheriff sale, to rally behind the new push to recover these lots and restore community ownership of land.

East Parkside, like many other working-class neighborhoods in West, North, and Northwest Philadelphia, where the highest concentration of these lots are located, is already struggling with high rates of gun violence, predatory development, a shortage of affordable housing, and the deleterious impacts of the climate crisis. Among flowers in bloom, trees bearing fruit, and garden beds overflowing with fresh produce, gardeners, neighborhood elders, legal experts, and elected officials emphasized the urgent need to protect these vibrant, well-maintained spaces and ensure a path toward community land ownership.

“The Restore Community Land campaign is an effort to right the wrongs of our City’s past treatment of Black and Brown communities and forge a path toward land sovereignty.” said Councilmember Brooks. “As a trained restorative justice practitioner, I believe it is the City’s responsibility to address the harm that it caused when it sold off thousands of properties and left it to the community to pick up the pieces when the properties sat empty for years. After decades of unpaid land stewardship and thoughtful maintenance, these residents deserve a say in what happens to these lots. This campaign is about returning power back to working families that have expended labor, sweat, and effort to better their community.”

The Restore Community Land campaign, forged by Councilmember Brooks in partnership with Iglesias Gardens, Neighborhood Gardens Trust, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Public Interest Law Center, Soil Generation, as well as Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier and Helen Gym, has identified approximately 500 at-risk parcels that are actively being used as gardens and side yards, and approximately 475 parcels that could be acquired for affordable housing assemblage. It proposes that the City reacquire these lots, and then partner with District Councilmembers, community stakeholders, and the Administration to prioritize parcels to be acquired by the Land Bank and establish clear pathways for community ownership of land.

The dire situation that hundreds of community gardens, side yards, and green spaces find themselves in results from a decision made by the City in 1997, when, in a failed effort to raise money for the School District, they bundled together 30,000 properties and sold them to U.S. Bank, a private corporation. For years the properties sat vacant and neglected, until residents took matters into their own hands and transformed these lots into urban farms, community hubs, and attractive side yards.

The proposal puts forth a $10 million line item in the FY23 budget as one viable way to permanently recover the land parcels that they have identified as high priority. It also includes opening negotiations with U.S. Bank by requesting that they immediately pause all sheriff’s sales of lien-encumbered parcels in Philadelphia and begin a discussion with City leaders about how to work together to permanently preserve these community assets.

SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…

IN OTHER NEWS…

Councilmember Gym Introduces Resolution Honoring LGBTQ+ Community on 50th Anniversary of 1st Gay Pride Parade. Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large), introduced the resolution, which recognizes the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March in Philly and declares June 2022 as LGBTQ+ Pride Month. The first Gay Pride March in Philadelphia took place on June 11, 1972 in Rittenhouse Square. The resolution chronicles the long struggles for equality and human rights by the LGBTQ+ community in Philadelphia. “Pride is a space for righteous joy and for the LGBTQ+ community to express and explore the fullness of their identities,” the resolution concludes.

OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK

Committee on Licenses and Inspections 5-19-2022

Committee on Commerce and Economic Development 5-23-2022

Committee on Law and Government 5-23-2022

FY2023 Budget Hearings – First Judicial District, Law Department, Art Museum 5-24-2022

FY2023 Budget Hearings – Public Testimony 5-24-2022

FY2023 Budget Hearings – Department Callbacks 5-25-2022

Stated Meeting of Philadelphia City Council 5-26-2022

PHILADELPHIA FACTS AND FIGURES

Ranked Underlying Causes of Deaths in Philadelphia, PA 2012-2019 Source: PhilaStats, Philadelphia Department of Public Health

The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, June 9, 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.

Featured Photo: M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia

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