Mayor Michael Nutter delivered his proposed budget this to City Council this afternoon. Characterized by a penchant for public-private partnerships and a reluctance to raise taxes, the budget provides for spending on public safety, business retention and neighborhood improvement efforts and revenue from capitalizing on municipal assets and operating a leaner, more efficient government.
Two issues immediately raised controversy. The first was the proposed actual value initiative, which the administration refuses to call a property tax increase but will base homeowners' next property tax bills on "fair, accurate values," leading to higher fees for some and generating an estimated $90 million for the school district.
"How it's characterized by whomever to some people is not relevant," Council President Darrell Clarke said. "I expect that the people who will have to pay cash from their pocket to City Hall will consider it a tax."
"It seems like it's never enough," he said of giving the money to the school district. "If I'm going to support additional funds, the school district needs to submit some kind of a plan for improvement," he said, noting that disruptive classroom atmospheres and enduring budget deficits needed to be addressed. "It doesn't matter how much money you give the school district if people are not learning."
Clarke did say that he was pleased with some aspects of the budget. "It's encouraging, in a sense – it appears that there are some signs of stabilization with the fiscal situation," he said, noting the lack of deep cuts. "But some of the revenue situations will be challenging for some of our members to be supportive of."
Nutter'sproposed $20 million renovation of LOVE Park to serve as a green connector between the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Dilworth Plaza also received criticism.
"LOVE Park is not particularly unattractive today," Councilman Bill Green said. "I think people would rather see that capital spending on neighborhood commercial corridors. ... What you're saying when you choose LOVE Park over other commercial corridors is that's your priority."
Here's a look at some of the other budget points:
Major financial challenges
Nutter identified three major financial challenges for the city:
- Theschool district budget gap, with $26 million left to close this fiscal year and an anticipated $150 to $400 million gap next year
- Gov. Tom Corbett's state budget, which includes funding cuts funding for secondary and higher education as well as social service programs
- the salaries and benefits of municipal employees, which account for 68 percent of the city budget and are growing at an unaffordable rate, with the pension fund still only 50 percent funded
Nutter said his proposed budget puts public safety "first and foremost" by:
- hiring nearly 400 new police officers by the end of the next fiscal year
- working with the Fraternal Order of Police to reduce the number of inactive officers and consolidate some special units for maximum manpower on the streets
- spending $6.6 million to renovate six police stations and 11 firehouses
- opening a new, state-of-the-art police headquarters that will be co-located with the city morgue and health offices at 4601 Market Street
- creating with community leaders a new $1 million community-based anti-violence effort at St. Joseph's University in April
Nutter cited the attraction and retention of businesses as a second goal, pledging to:
- restart reductions in wage and business taxes that were suspended during the economic downturn
- create a working group in City Council to ensure capital projects are completed on time
- enact the package of tax cuts and business-friendly measures passed by City Council in November
Nutter identified community and quality of life investments as third important spending area, allocating:
- $8.7 million to improve recreation centers
- $7 million for neighborhood branch libraries in the hopes of leveraging additional philanthropiccontributions
- $20 million for the renovation of LOVE Park to connect Dilworth Plaza with the Parkway
- creating aTraffic Operations Center to monitor traffic flow and adjust signals to respond to real time traffic movements
- making a single, online point of entry to find and buy city-owned vacant properties
- touting the success of the city's community-based Philly Rising neighborhood improvement program
Nutter said that it was important to look at raising money without raising taxes. These efforts include:
- hiring an efficiency expert to review operating costs and revenue collections of the city government
- more aggressively investigating and prosecuting those who commit tax fraud
- soliciting bids from private companies for Philadelphia Gas Works
- considering advertising on municipal property
- charging an accurate amount of property tax as a part of the actual value initiative