City Council overhauls budget hearing process

City Council
Rikard Larma/Metro.

City Council President Darrell Clarke has created what he’s calling a more efficient budget hearing process to speed up the lengthy proceedings and to allow for maximum citizen input, according to a release from Clarke’s office.

“This is a particularly unusual year in the city of Philadelphia,” Clarke said in a statement.

“It is crucial we gather as much information from the administration and from the public as we can on the impacts of the Actual Value Initiative and the unprecedented mass closures of public schools.” Council President Clarke said.

City Council has told officials from 16 city departments they don’t need to appear in person at this year’s budget hearings, though they’re still required to submit written testimony to City Council.

In general, only those officials whose departments have operating budgets greater than $5 million will be required to physically appear before City Council to plead their case for funding.

Council still wants to hear personally from the heads of 10 departments whose operating budgets don’t meet the minimum because they perform critical functions or because Council members have in previous years raised concerns about those departments’ operations.

Council members still reserve the right to call up for questioning officials with any of the 16 departments not currently scheduled to testify.

In another change, testifying officials won’t be reading their statements during hearings in order to allow for more time for questioning from Council members.

Representatives must instead provide a written copy of their testimony to City Council at least 48 hours in advance of their scheduled hearing and Council members will read it before proceedings begin.

Council members further face time limits of their own. Clarke capped first-round questioning to five minutes and second-round questioning to three minutes so witnesses have more time to respond.

It’s all part of an effort to streamline the process, allowing for more citizen input – Council will hold seven budget sessions focusing on public testimony, including two evening hearings outside City Hall.

“With regard to property tax relief measures and a host of other critical issues, there is no question we’ve got to get this right,” Clarke said.

“The neighborhood and civic group meetings my fellow Council members and I are attending demonstrate that citizens are deeply concerned as well. I encourage all constituents to make themselves heard as we move through the budget process.”

Public testimony in City Hall is currently scheduled for:

Tuesday, April 9 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, April 16 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Tuesday, April 23 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Monday, April 30 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Neighborhood budget hearings will be held:

Wednesday, April 17 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Monday, April 22, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Locations will be announced shortly.

The budget hearing process will begin at 10 a.m. tomorrow with testimony from the administration on the fiscal year 2014 through 2018 Five-Year Plan and continue Tuesday with officials from the Office of Property Assessment.

Seven callback sessions are being reserved for departments to provide additional information requested by Council members. Two callback sessions will be entirely devoted to the School District of Philadelphia.

Complete copies of the budget and five-year plan will be publicly available on City Council’s website.

Members of the public may at any time present written testimony by emailing Chief Clerk Michael Decker. Those without email access are encouraged to call 215-686-3407 for more information.


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