CITY COUNCIL PASSES A BUDGET WITH TAX REDUCTIONS FOR HOMEOWNERS, BUSINESSES AND WORKERS
City Council on Thursday gave final approval to a $5.8 Billion city budget that includes key breaks for homeowners on property assessments, as well as modest reductions in business and wage taxes for businesses and city workers. Council approved an Operating Budget bill for the fiscal year starting July 1st by a unanimous 17-0 vote. It also voted unanimously to approve an increase in the Homestead exemption to $80,000 – a key step given that property assessments are going up an average of 31 percent across the city, and even higher in some neighborhoods. The Homestead exemption increase will save property owners an estimated $1,119 on their property tax bills next year. On the wage and business tax reductions, Council approved the tax bills by 14-3 votes, with Councilmembers At Large Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks, and 3rd District Member Jamie Gauthier – voting against the tax reductions.
As a result of Thursday’s voting, the wage tax on residents will decline from 3.83 percent to 3.79 percent, while the wage tax on commuters will decline from 3.448 percent to 3.44 percent. The net income portion of the city’s Business Income and Receipts Tax (BIRT) will decline from 6.2 percent to 5.99 percent. Council also voted to increase funding for the LOOP program, the Longtime Owner-Occupant Program, which assists longtime property owners facing the impact of rising property values and taxes. The LOOP budget was $25 million this year. Council increased it to $35.2 million in voting this week. Council also increased spending on various violence reduction programs and strategies, in the wake of a gun violence epidemic citywide that shows little signs of abating.
The Kenney administration originally proposed $184 million in violence prevention programs. City Council added about $16 million more in spending to initiatives designed to reduce violence and make neighborhoods safer. Those initiatives receiving additional funding by Council this week included more money for abandoned car removal, security cameras near schools and other public spaces, a police forensics lab, a community cleaning program, and funds to keep recreation centers open on weekends.
In addition, Council appropriated more funds for domestic violence prevention, crime victim advocacy, police recruitment, renter assistance, and the public defenders’ office. Some of the key tax reduction and mitigation measures that Council approved were in a package of bills put forward by Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), while others were put forward by a combination of members, including At Large Councilmembers Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Isaiah Thomas and Derek Green, among others.
$10 MILLION MORE IN FUNDING FOR CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS IN COUNCILMEMBER BASS’ DISTRICT
Earlier this week, Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District) publicly warned she would hold up approval of the Kenney administration’s signature Rebuild initiative and spending plan for next year, unless her Northwest Philadelphia district received more funds for capital improvements – recreation centers, libraries, other public spaces – in line with what other districts were receiving. Thursday, Councilmember Bass introduced legislation on Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District)’s behalf that will add $10 million in capital expenditures in the 8th District, earmarked for a playground and a recreation center in Bass’ district.
COUNCILMEMBER GREEN OFFERS LEGISLATION REGARDING BODY ARMOR
In the wake of a mass shooting on South Street several weeks ago, and mass shootings nationally in Texas, New York and other locations, Councilmember Green offered legislation that would require those in possession of body armor, as well as sellers of such goods, “to maintain and submit records regarding sales to Philadelphia residents.” As city, state, and federal leaders nationwide work toward solutions for implementing greater gun control measures, including background checks, and safety standards in the wake of the recent tragedies in Buffalo, NY and Uvalde, TX, Councilmember Green is taking the opportunity to explore similar rules for protective gear, such as body armor. With gun sales and permits up more than 600% over the last year in Philadelphia as violent crime surges, evaluating and ultimately establishing equally sensible protocols for garments designed to protect an individual from penetration of bullets, knives, and other weapons is more than timely within the current environment.
SEEN ON SOCIAL MEDIA…
Not sure when your milled street is scheduled for paving? Track the progress of your street by visiting the PavePHL tab on https://t.co/diQoPqo9Xb.
— Councilmember Mike Driscoll (@DriscollForPHL) June 22, 2022
COUNCILMEMBER GYM OFFERS LEGISLATION TO SET UP AN INDEPENDENT PRISONS OVERSIGHT BOARD
Councilmember Helen Gym this week introduced legislation to establish a new oversight structure for Philadelphia prisons, a Prisons Oversight Board, to ensure the safety and security of incarcerated people and corrections officers.
The proposed Charter Change would replace the current Advisory Board with a staffed civilian board with a defined mission, independent oversight, and investigative powers. “Safety is our top concern for those housed in our prisons and those who work there,” said Councilmember Gym. “With today’s introduction, we are taking a critical step in establishing an oversight body that has the power to ask questions and get answers, with a commitment to community engagement, transparency, and change that has been sorely lacking.” 29 people have died in Philadelphia’s jails in the last two years, a rate 77% higher than the national average.
Since the start of the pandemic, civil litigation cases related to conditions in Philadelphia’s prisons have proliferated, resulting in costly fines and settlements. High vacancy rates in the Department — with open positions increasing by nearly 60% to 644 vacancies in the last year — has caused outcry from both advocates and workers over serious safety issues. In a survey by the Pennsylvania Prison Society, over 90% of incarcerated people reported corrections officers being largely absent on the weekends.
“The City of Philadelphia needs a truly independent prison oversight body — one that has a professional staff and the power to investigate systemic problems in the Philadelphia prisons,” said Susan M. Lin, Partner at Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP. “This legislation, which creates such an independent oversight body, will help improve the safety and humanity of the prisons and will encourage prison officials to address issues in the prisons before they turn into long, drawn out lawsuits.”
If passed by Council, the charter change would appear on the ballot for approval by voters. Accompanying legislation to set board composition and selection as well as further define the board’s powers and duties is expected to be introduced this fall
IN OTHER NEWS…
For Some Councilmembers, a Sense of Closure in the Final Session Before Summer. For certain Councilmembers, Thursday’s session and closing remarks offered an opportunity for them to sum up their work in Council – and the challenges facing the city. Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large) was first, alluding to the possibility this was his “last Meeting in City Council.” Domb spoke of the many challenges the city faces – gun violence, opioid abuse and deaths – and the city’s urgent need for a new leader to step up.
Councilmember Green was next, and he used the final meeting to offer heartfelt thanks to his longtime legislative director, Frank Iannuzzi, who is leaving Council staff for another opportunity. Green also said this may have been “the last time he had this forum to speak.” Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez (7th District) struck a similar tone, saying she was very proud of all work over the years in Council, before adding, “I will continue to serve” Philadelphia. Each of the three members are rumored to be considering campaigns for mayor next year.
Council President Clarke, as is his custom, closed out the final session before Summer. He alluded to the aforementioned speeches and the potential for change in Council, and then said, “I assure you, one constant will be the same consistent level of hard work in this legislative body, putting the needs of the people of Philadelphia first and foremost.”
OTHER SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM THE COUNCIL WEEK
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled to take place on Thursday, September 15, 2022 at 10 a.m. The Meeting will air on Xfinity Ch. 64, Fios Channel 40 and stream at www.PHLCouncil.com/watch.
Featured Photo: Jared Piper/PHLCouncil