St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children will soon be home to a new Center for the Urban Child.
The center — which is a part of the hospital’s $110 million expansion project — will focus on reducing health disparities among children in Philadelphia.
“The Center for the Urban Child was designed to provide top quality, efficient, cost effective care for the children of our local community and to do this in a way that addresses the social determinants of their health and address issues such as violence and food insecurity,” St. Christopher’s CEO Carolyn Jackson said during an event held to announce the expansion project.
“We really are dedicated, and have been since the 1800s, to providing quality care to the kids in our area, and we have a duty to help them break out of the cycles that they are in.”
Sixty-three percent of the residents in the neighborhoods surrounding St. Christopher’s are living in poverty.
The center will be under the direction of Dr. Jill Foster, associate chair for clinical operations, and will be housed in a new 30,000-square-foot medical office building on the hospital’s main campus at Erie Avenue and Front Street.
Dr. Robert McGregor, St. Christopher’s interim pediatrician-in-chief, says hospital officials have been working on the center’s concept for the past 10 years.
“The Center for the Urban Child is a community-focused initiative designed to help our children break the cycles of violence, food insecurity and childhood stress,” said McGregor.
“The goal of the center is to provide children with comprehensive care and medical services as well as other services in a three-prong approach and will serve to reduce the barriers to health care access for patients and their families, to improve the diagnosis and care of the diseases associated with health care disparities and hopefully to modify those risk factors.”
The center seeks to address the underlying factors to health issues such as asthma, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases and trauma.
McGregor says the center will also have a research component where data will be collected and best practices will be dissimilated to colleagues across the country.
Mayor Michael Nutter thanked St. Christopher officials and staff for their commitment to Philadelphia and lauded the Center for the Urban Child.
“To have this center right here, I think now becomes a model not just for the city, but for the nation, and I expect that we will hear great things about this center, and people will be coming to Philadelphia to see how they can possibly have something like it,” said Nutter.
Another component of the multimillion dollar expansion project includes the construction of a new four-floor 135,000 square-foot critical care tower that includes three new operating rooms, 50 new critical care beds and 60 Level IIIC neonatal intensive care unit beds. The new tower should be fully operational by 2015.
“The dollars going into the facility as well as the technology will allow us to offer state of the art care to the most complex children, as well as the simpler cases in the hospital that will benefit from this investment,” said Jackson.
The project will have a significant economic impact — with the creation of 450 construction jobs, and more than 300 new healthcare jobs within five years of completion.
“We’re making an investment here in the health of the community. We’re making investment in physical facilities. We’re making an investment in the local economy” said Trevor Fetter, Tenet Healthcare Corporation’s president and CEO.
“St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children has long been at the forefront of pediatric medicine in our country. The vision that Carolyn Jackson and her team are demonstrating through the creation of the Center for the Urban Child reflects Tenet’s dedication to specific programs designed to meet the needs of each community we serve. We believe strongly that this innovative model of care will make a significant and lasting difference in the lives of our patients, their neighborhoods and the future of Philadelphia.”
According to St. Christopher’s officials, construction on the new project should begin the first quarter of 2013.
The project is supported by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the city of Philadelphia the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation.
City Council President Darrell Clarke’s head is full of ideas, and he just wants to get on with it already.
“I have a sense of urgency,” Clarke said, as he reflected on his first few months as president. “I’ve got to do stuff. I’ve got municipal marketing. I’ve got a development district. And, the other members too, we’ve got projects.”
Some of his ideas — like municipal marketing, selling advertising space on city property — have been controversial. But, Clarke, at a recent Tribune editorial board meeting, said it's time for city government to begin looking at fresh ways to generate revenue.
He’s going to keep throwing out ideas until he’s solved the problem.
Clarke has been portrayed as something of a sphinx – quiet, diligent, a man who worked best behind the scenes. That’s pretty much how he’s operated since being first elected to council in 1999. He held a leadership role, majority whip, but it was one that allowed him to remain in the shadows.
That’s impossible as council president. Yet, his tendency to shun the spotlight is evident in his leadership style.
“I guess I’m decentralizing the council president’s authority. I think it’s been very helpful, and I think it’s been good for the members,” he said.
Already the tenor of council has changed.
For the first time, a council president, who has traditionally exercised great authority in what legislation moves, when and who on council is involved, has delegated quite a bit of that authority.
“I think I’ve tried to be fair,” he said. “Every council person chairs a committee, which is unprecedented.”
As an example, he pointed to Councilman David Oh, a freshman and a Republican, two strikes against him under traditional council leadership, but Clarke has put in him charge of the Committee on Global Opportunities.
“He’s supposed to be chairing that committee,” Clarke said.
As president, he also expects every member to pull his or her weight.
“Don’t expect me to do the follow up,” he said. “You do the follow up and make sure the legislation gets enacted properly. They love it.”
Clarke recognizes that to get some of his ideas put in place he’ll have to collaborate even more – primarily with Mayor Michael Nutter.
“The reality is that the legislative branch of government cannot implement programs. That is, to a large degree, some of the frustration that a legislator suffers. Because at the end of the day, you can have nine million great ideas, but if the mayor chooses not to implement it that’s all it is, an idea,” he said.
The relationship between the two men – often acrimonious – is evolving.
“To be determined,” was how Clarke described it.
He stepped into the city’s top legislative job in January during a period that was deceptively quiet. Council, now knee-deep in budget hearings that are convoluted with concerns over a move to a property tax system based on full property values, and this week’s bombshell about the school district’s budget, is wrestling with issues that will shape the city’s long-term future.
Critics worried that the influence of his political mentor, former Mayor John F. Street, would be too evident.
Nutter campaigned vigorously behind the scenes against Clarke’s election to the presidency. The mayor backed former Majority Leader Marian Tasco.
Clarke doesn’t seem to hold a grudges.
He joked about Tasco’s recent participation in Dancing with the Philadelphia Stars, a charity dance contest Tasco won.
“It was a little bit rigged,” he said laughing.
As far as Nutter is concerned, Clarke admits that for progress to be made the two men will have to collaborate. The city made little progress under Mayor Bill Green, who was constantly at odds with council, he said. W. Wilson Goode had a better relationship with council but the city was broke at the time. Ed Rendell, during his tenure as mayor, managed to work well with Council President John Street.
“Street sat down and said ‘this is what I want’ and Ed said ‘this is what I want’ - they worked a deal and stuff happened,” said Clarke.
Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
In any event, Clarke now has a greater respect for former Council President Anna C. Verna, who steered council from 1999 to 2012.
“Every day I think about Anna Verna with a newfound respect,” he said, adding that he hoped he could be an example for his colleagues. “We’ve been given a significant opportunity and responsibility — and we need to treat it as such.”
Occupy Philly and the city seem poised for a confrontation as concerns over public safety and health issues — exacerbated by new allegations of a rape Saturday night in the sprawling tent city — and plans to renovate Dilworth Plaza move forward.
“Occupy Philly has changed,” Mayor Michael Nutter said in a statement issued on the weekend after the alleged rape in the encampment of several hundred people in Dilworth Plaza on the west side of City Hall. “We’re seeing serious health and safety issues playing out on almost a daily basis. The people of Occupy Philly have also changed, and their intentions have changed … and all of this is not good for Philadelphia.”
He also announced that police would begin regular foot patrols through the makeshift city of tents and tarps.
The move came after reports of a rape there Saturday night. Police are investigating the allegations made by a 25-year-old woman from Atlantic City, who said she was assaulted at about 7:45 p.m. A 50-year-old man was arrested late Saturday, but has not been charged.
Administration officials have quietly been worrying about how to deal with Occupy Philly for several weeks, but hoping to avoid provocation, have done nothing. On Sunday, Nutter ran down a list of grievances. Demonstrators lack a permit, public urination and defecation have been reported and the encampment has been attracting more and more homeless people.
In addition, Nutter said the encampment has also been drawing political radicals.
“We’ve seen the rise of new groups as a part of this movement — like the Radical Caucus, which is bent on civil disobedience and disrupting city operations,” he said.
Demonstrators have occupied Dilworth Plaza for 41 days.
Plans for the renovations to the plaza — expected to cost $50 million — have been in the works for more than year. There is no firm date for construction to begin, but “it’s coming soon,” said Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald. That could force the Occupiers to disband or moved to a new site.
Knowing that, several Occupy general assemblies have been held to debate the possibility of a move. Several ideas have been discussed, including a move to the nearby plaza adjoining the Municipal Services Building.
But on Friday night, members of the group voted in general assembly not to vacate Dilworth Plaza.
Nutter said the city was intent on avoiding a confrontation, but chided the group for its vote, which could disrupt plans for the plaza remodel.
“Occupy Philly is now purposely standing in the way of nearly 1,000 jobs for Philadelphians at a time of high unemployment. They are blocking Philadelphians from taking care of their families,” he said.
Some demonstrators said the mayor’s concerns about the renovations were simply a pretext for the city to expel them.
“Forget this crap about re-doing Dilworth Plaza,” said Bob Magee. “Nutter wants Occupy away, so the Christmas and Hanukkah shoppers aren’t offended … this is what it was about all along and now he’s setting up his pretext to clean out the Occupy encampment.”
Some sort of showdown seems inevitable, agreed Jacob Russell.
“It is wishful thinking to believe power will surrender power without strategic confrontation,” said Russell. “There is no ‘safe’ place to move, unless it be somewhere completely out of sight and with no possibility of exerting pressure on established power.”
Like hundreds of Occupy demonstrations the world over, protesters in Philadelphia started out voicing their concerns about corporate greed and government corruption. Unlike other demonstrations, some of which have been wracked by violence, the Philadelphia movement has remained peaceful. There have been 25 arrests in a couple of incidents where protestors have been charged with trespassing or obstructing the street, but Philadelphia has avoided the kind of violence that has marked the protests in Oakland, Calif. and Portland, Ore.
Occupy movements across the nation appeared to be in a state of flux over the weekend.
According to the Associated Press, police in Portland and Oakland cleared out Occupy encampments on Sunday and Monday. In Salt Lake City, Utah, 19 people were arrested on Saturday when protesters refused to leave a park a day after a man as found dead inside his tent. Twenty-four people were arrested in Albany, N.Y. after they remained in a state-owned park after it closed at 11 p.m. In Denver, Colo., authorities arrested four people as they forced protesters to leave a downtown encampment. In San Francisco, police said two demonstrators attacked two police officers in separate incidents during a march.
While the commonwealth of Pennsylvania has no poet laureate (after a decade, the title was abolished in 2003), Philadelphia has staked out its position as a thriving artistic city with its second appointment in a year. Mayor Michael A. Nutter announced last week that Siduri Beckman has been named the City of Philadelphia’s first Youth Poet Laureate in a City Hall ceremony with the City’s inaugural Poet Laureate Sonia Sanchez. A position complementing the city’s poet laureate, the youth poet laureate was selected from among high school youth residing within the city of Philadelphia.
Sanchez, currently serving a two-year term, provided input to the Poet Laureate Governing Committee, whose members are Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia; Al Filreis, faculty director of Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania; Beth Feldman Brandt, poet and executive director of the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation; and Greg Corbin, founder and executive director, Philly Youth Poetry Movement. After a rigorous selection process, two finalists were selected, Jaya Montague and Siduri Beckman, both of whom read their original poetry as part of the event.
“It is an honor to announce that the Poet Laureate Committee has selected a young person to promote poetry and the arts to the youth of Philadelphia,” said Nutter. “The city is proud to acknowledge the power and importance of poetry as an art form. Programs like the Philly Youth Poetry Movement have shown the impact that poetry can have on the positive development of young people, and it’s significant that we are officially recognizing this impact.”
Gary Steuer, chair of the Poet Laureate Governing Committee and chief cultural officer of the OACCE said, “We were pleased to see the caliber of talent displayed by the applicants for the position and look forward to working with the Youth Poet Laureate as she begins to fulfill the duties associated with the position. We look forward to seeing her grow as a poet and develop her talents while inspiring her fellow youth to greater artistic pursuits and success in life.”
Following the announcement of the Youth Poet Laureate, Beckman and Sanchez recited poetry together for the first time. “Poetry makes us remember the best of ourselves and others,” said Sanchez. “How it keeps us constantly confronting the most important question of this twenty-first century: what does it mean to be human?”
A controversial new curfew intended to keep teens off the street after 11 p.m. was signed into law this week by Mayor Michael Nutter.
“By adopting this legislation, we are updating and enforcing a law that was already on the books,” said Nutter, noting that the city has had a curfew since 1950.
Expanding the law was necessary, he said, to combat the ongoing problem of flash mobs, which popped up several times this summer in Center City and several other neighborhoods.
“During this past summer, our city was faced with a small percentage of our city’s youth impacting all of our citizens. This law will help our law enforcement to respond more effectively and quickly to apprehend the offenders,” he said.
The law, which was passed 16-1 by City Council last month, over vocal public objection, creates three different curfews according to age. Those 13 and under have to be off the street by 8 p.m. during the school year and 9 p.m. during the summer months. Kids ages 14 and 15 have a 9 p.m. curfew throughout the school year and 10 p.m. during the summer. Those 16 and 17 have to be inside by 10 p.m. through the school year and 11 p.m. in the summer.
Parents of violators can be fined up to $500.
According to the mayor’s office, curfew violators will be taken to the closest police station and held until their parents or guardians can be contacted. Parents will receive a notice or citation when they collect their child from the station. If a parent or guardian cannot be reached, police will contact the Department of Human Services (DHS) to initiate an investigation.
The law does provide a few exemptions.
Working teens or children acting on their parents’ orders or with their parents are excluded.
Nutter pushed for the new curfew hours after several flash mobs this summer. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who introduced the bill on the mayor’s behalf, praised him for quickly signing the bill into law.
This measure gives law enforcement officials an important tool that they have requested to deter youth violence,” she said. “Provided that it is used fairly and compassionately, it can be an important piece of the puzzle to building a safer city.”
Critics of the bill compared it to Jim Crow and apartheid.
“Let’s call it like it is. It’s a step back to Jim Crow,” said Adan Diaz, when he opposed the bill last month in City Council.
He then had harsh words for Council.
“You are a shame to yourself, your city, and yes, your race if you pass this,” he said to a round of applause.
While extending its condolences to the families of victims of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, the U.S. Conference of Mayors – under the leadership of Mayor Michael Nutter – has asked the president and Congress for more stringent gun laws.
“We believe that with this latest national tragedy and the high incidence of gun violence that continues to plague our streets, we have reached a tipping point,” said the letter, signed by Nutter, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and five others.
The open letter, posted on the group’s website, was sent Monday to President Barack Obama and members of the U.S. House and Senate. It urged “immediate action” through executive order and legislation.
In addition to calling for tougher gun laws, the letter also asked that a national commission on violence be established, and pushed for more funding for the mental health system.
Gun control was the group’s most pressing concern.
“Again and again and again, Americans are stunned by senseless acts of violence involving guns,” said the mayors. “Friday’s tragedy targeting young children in Newtown is incomprehensible. Too many times this year, mayors have expressed shock at a mass shooting. Even more frequently, many of us must cope with the gun violence that occurs on the streets of our cities.”
In three bullet points, the letter urged a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines; advocated for a national background check, and harsh national penalties for straw purchasers.
Then, expanding concerns to what it called a “culture of violence” the group of mayors asked for a deeper look at violence and ways to end it.
“We know that preventing gun violence – whether it is a mass shooting in a school or a murder on a street corner – will take much more than strengthening our gun laws,” they wrote.
The conference urged lawmakers to set up a bipartisan commission “to look at the broader issues of violence in our nation so that a violent act isn’t the first response to settling a difference.”
Mayors also asked for more money for mental health programs.
“We need to strengthen and more adequately fund our mental health system, so that we can identify troubled individuals earlier and get them the help they need,” said the letter.
Phrasing in the letter echoed recent statements by Nutter, who has been a proponent of tougher gun laws.
Last week, Nutter condemned the shooting with nearly identical words.
“Again and again and again, Americans are stunned by senseless acts of violence involving guns,” he said in a statement released Friday. “Today’s tragedy targeting young children in Newtown is incomprehensible.”
Bloomberg has also been very public in his outrage.
“We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek. And, now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns,” he said in statements published widely after Friday’s shooting.
As the aggressive investigation into the slaying of Police Officer Moses Walker continues, as of Tribune press time, the reward for the arrest and conviction of the suspects jumped to $88,000 and could climb even higher.
There’s $57,000 just for the arrest of the killer, and another $31,000 for the prosecution and conviction of those responsible. Much of the money is coming from private donations.
Law enforcement authorities released surveillance video of the two men wanted in connection with the death of Walker, who was gunned down over the weekend in an attempted robbery.
The surveillance footage, released by the Philadelphia Police Department, clearly shows Walker, 40, heading to the bus stop, looking over his shoulder a few times. The footage shows the two suspects, but not their faces, and police and city officials are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying them, in addition to questioning a witness whom police believe saw the entire incident.
“On Saturday, August 18, 2012, at 6:00 a.m., police responded to a shooting at 20th and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. When they arrived they found Officer Moses Walker; he had been shot multiple times. He was transported to Hahnemann University Hospital where he was pronounced dead,” said Captain James Clark of the Homicide Unit. “The investigation reveals that Officer Walker, who had just gotten off from the late tour at the 22nd District, had changed into civilian clothes and was on foot in the direction of 17th and Cecil B. Moore. He then started westbound to try and catch a bus to his home in the 2100 block of Cecil B. Moore Avenue, two males approached him. A robbery was announced, and they demanded money from him. At this time, the officer attempted to pull out his off duty weapon. That’s when one of the males fired, striking the officer once in the chest, once in the stomach and once in the hand.”
Clark said they’re fairly sure the suspects live in the area, and are very sure local residents know who they are. Mayor Michael Nutter said that $20,000 of the reward money came from the city. The Fraternal Order of Police put up an additional $20,000. The rest came from private donations. Mayor Nutter has ordered that all city flags be flown at half staff in Walker’s honor. Funeral arrangements are still being handled as of Tribune press time.
“This is just another tragedy, particularly for our police department. I spoke with Officer Walker’s mother, and everyone in their family is deeply affected by this murder,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “At 6:00 in the morning in this area we have to believe that individuals walking the streets and engaging someone they didn’t know, they have to be from that neighborhood and more than likely live in the community.”
Nutter said that the standing reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone wanted for murder is $20,000. That information can be turned over to the police by a phone call, social media and other ways. To offer information, call 215-686-TIPS or go to www.ppdonline.com.
“These people are a menace to society, and we’re asking for the public to give us information. We need to get these killers off the streets,” Nutter said.
Walker, who was a year away from retirement, is the tenth Philadelphia Police officer to die in the line of duty since Officer Gary Skerski was shot to death on May 8, 2008. Officers William Barclay, Charles Cassidy, Stephen Liczbinski, Isabel Nazario, Patrick McDonald, Timothy Simpson, John Pawlowski and most recently, Brian Lorenzo, all fell in the line of duty.
“This department has been through an awful lot,” said Ramsey. “We’ve lost a lot of officers, more than some departments get in 20 years. As you can see the video isn’t very clear, but they’re probably from the area since they were hanging around that early in the morning.”
Capt. Clark said that while no suspects have been named yet, investigators are questioning a man who witnessed the murder. Police are also questioning a fourth individual who was in a white car and who had an arrest warrant for robbery. Clark did not release the name of the individual, but did say they were under arrest for that robbery and was being questioned in Walker’s murder also.
“That robbery is similar to this one,” Clark said. “There have been three or four robberies in the vicinity that fit the same pattern. This individual may not be one of the suspects but he is under arrest for an earlier robbery. We do not believe the witness is associated with the two killers.”
Hoping to pressure gun makers into voluntarily adopting certain gun safety measures, Mayor Michael Nutter this week said he is urging the city’s pension board to divest from companies that don’t formally adopt a standard code of “corporate conduct.”
“We deserve better and more importantly we can do better,” Nutter said, noting that he advocated for stronger gun laws, but that wasn’t enough. “We can’t wait. One of the most effective ways to make our voices heard is through our investments.”
Nutter made the announcement Tuesday at City Hall, where he also unveiled what he called the “Sandy Hook Principles.” It was list of 20 principles that ranged from requiring a national database of gun owners, stopping the sale and manufacture and conversion of assault weapons for sale to civilians, controls on sale to straw purchasers, restrictions on the sale of ammunition to including a serial number in four different locations on each weapon.
The idea, Nutter said, was based on the principles developed by Leon L. Sullivan, whose concepts pioneered in the fight against apartheid when many municipalities and institutional investors put pressure on the government of South Africa to end apartheid by refusing to do business with the country.
“We are proposing a code of corporate conduct based on common sense principals that Congress, institutions and many of the American people can agree on,” he said. “Corporations in the firearms business will be asked to adhere to these principles or risk losing investments.”
Calls to a local chapter of the Friends of the National Rifle Association were referred to the national headquarters. Repeated phone calls, made Tuesday and Wednesday, to the organization’s headquarters were answered with a recorded message that said all circuits were busy.
The mayor’s announcement comes a month after the shootings in Newtown, Conn. in which 26 people – 20 elementary school students and six adults – were killed. The deaths, at the hands of one man armed with an assault weapon, has provoked a national debate over gun control. Nutter made his proposal just one day before President Barack Obama announced his own measures.
According to Nutter, city Solicitor Shelley Smith will formally introduce his proposal at the pension board’s meeting next week.
If it’s adopted, pension fund officials will require companies in which the city invests to be notified of the requirement, and respond in writing with an endorsement of the principles and pledge to abide by them. If they don’t, the city will end its investment, Nutter said.
Philadelphia has an estimated $9 million invested in companies that do business involving firearms and ammunition – largely in retail and related businesses. It has no direct investment in firearms manufacturers or ammunition makers.
In addition to urging the city’s pension board to adopt his proposal, Nutter said he would use his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors to push the idea in other cities as well. The national conference meets Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Washington, D.C.
He also hopes to coax other large pension funds, like the one administered by the teachers’ union and those associated with universities and other institutional investors, to divest too.
“I am asking all cities, states, transit systems, schools, colleges, hedge fund and pension fund managers, venture capital funds and all other organizations that hold investments with private corporations to review the Sandy Hook principles and consider their adoptions,” he said.
The mayor, long a gun control advocate, put his idea in a larger context, detailing the number of gun deaths across the nation since the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King. According to the mayor’s statistics, one million people have been killed with guns since that time. Since the shooting at Newtown, 900 people across the country have been killed by guns and in Philadelphia last year 331 were killed – 281 of them by guns.
Fifteen new apartments, dedicated exclusively for housing homeless veterans who need assistance with mental health or drug issues, were opened this week in the city’s Point Breeze section.
A ribbon cutting ceremony officially opening the facility, called Patriot House, was held Tuesday afternoon, June 19, with Mayor Michael Nutter, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson and officials with CATCH Inc., who will operate and manage the property, in attendance.
“No one who has ever worn a uniform in the United States of America should ever find themselves homeless — should ever be without service,” Nutter said. “They served the country — we now have to serve them.”
Thirteen one-bedroom units and two efficiencies are spread across three renovated row homes in the South Philadelphia neighborhood, just two blocks west of Broad Street near Federal Street.
“Veterans, whether they’re serving now, whether they’re returning home, whether they’re retired — they should receive nothing else but the best services this country can offer,” Johnson said.
Each apartment comes equipped with central air conditioning and a washer and dryer. It also comes with supportive services provided by CATCH. They include a case manager to help residents with substance abuse, health care, budget preparation, adult literacy, stress management, job readiness, life skills and home safety. It also provides a van service for residents.
“This is a city based on redemption,” Nutter said. “It’s not how many times you get knocked down — it’s how many times you get back up. Every one of us has needed a helping hand at some point in our lives.”
While there are few reliable statistics on homeless veterans in Philadelphia, the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that, nationwide, there are 67,000 veterans sleeping on the street each night. Roughly 56 percent are Black or Hispanic. The majority of them are single, come from urban areas, and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. About one-third of the entire adult homeless population are veterans.
The $3 million project was made possible through a mix of federal and local funds along with private financing. CATCH is a South Philadelphia-based non-profit that has been providing behavioral health and intellectual disability services since 1979.
Public testimony continued Thursday in City Council over Mayor Michael Nutter’s proposed actual value initiative, or AVI, a plan to radically overhaul property tax values in Philadelphia.
None of those who spoke during the hearing expressed total opposition to the plan; in fact they acknowledged that the current property tax assessment system is unbalanced and extremely flawed. The greatest concern was the fear that Council could vote on the issue before all of the property reassessments are completed — which won’t be until 2013.
“We’re not against AVI,” said James Foster, publisher of the Germantown Chronicle. “But we are concerned about how its passage will impact the economy of the city. I call this an awakening to the reality of neglect in the city. We have one of the best transit systems in the country and I would ask that Council members take a ride on a train, get a window seat going just outside the city and a window seat going back in. All of these trains go right through the hearts of your districts. You will see what’s left of the economic base that made Philadelphia great. Dilapidated buildings, abandoned houses, impromptu junkyards, and of course, empty blocks where buildings once stood. What do all of these properties have in common? They are paying no real estate taxes. They are paying no business taxes and are employing no residents of Philadelphia. Bad decisions drove people out before — and if this passes you will once again see another several hundred thousand leave in short order.”
Foster also said that Council and the Nutter administration should put more emphasis on collections of tax delinquent properties.
Last week, City Council approved to the new property tax system, but the final vote is pending. The proposal, which if passed along with the Use and Occupancy tax, would bring more than $85 million more for the financially limping school district. But public support for the new measures is shaky and residents are concerned that council is being pushed to pass the bills before all of the property assessments are in. The vocal residents who testified on Thursday, along with some members of Council are asking for a one-year delay in AVI, a proposal offered by City Councilman Mark Squilla.
“Our primary concern is the long term impact that raising the tax bills will have,” said Jeff Carpineta, president of the East Kensington Neighbors Association. “Some residents could find their tax bills going up from $800 dollars to $2,500 or $3,500 dollars. These residents could wind up making late payments on mortgages or in some cases even face foreclosures, decreasing the values of the communities and dumping more properties on the market. We’ll see more residents dislocated. If we don’t have a year to work this out, it could be a disaster.”
Residents stated their agreement that the current tax assessment system needs to be fixed. Mayor Nutter wants to fix Philadelphia’s broken property-tax system by reassessing all homes and businesses, and in the process, raise millions for the school district. Revamping the property-tax system will give city residents the most accurate assessments in years.
AVI would change the way the city assesses real estate, moving from assessments based on a fraction of property value to the full market value.
“No more fractions. No more complications. You should not need a math degree to be able to figure out what your taxes are,” said the mayor in a previous interview. “Once the new values are in, we have to use them.”
Councilmen Bill Green and Mark Squilla have announced their opposition to the proposal, calling on the administration to delay implementation for another year. And state Sen. Larry Farnese has also come on board, saying he was introducing legislation in Harrisburg that would give Council that option. Opponents say they’re being asked to vote on something before all of the information is available and assessment figures will not be available until July.
Over and over during Thursday’s hearing, residents and business people alike implored Council to delay the process for one year.
“Really, I’m very pessimistic about Philadelphia’s prospects for the future,” said real estate developer Richard Snowden. “The notion that this Council is even considering a property tax increase, coming on the heels of other recent large tax increases and a jump in virtually every fee the city imposes on businesses indicates a blatant disregard for the people of this city. Due to the unreasonable scale and lack of phasing of this policy I have alerted our employees, tenants and members for 2013 includes enormous rent increases which many simply cannot afford to pay. We’ll see layoffs and curtailments in restoration and rehabilitation of buildings — all so the city can get its thirty pieces of silver. Many small Mom and Pop businesses will simply close their doors.”