Credit Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter for using a word during his Democratic National Convention speech last week that President Barack Obama seemingly has purged from his public vocabulary: poverty.
Nutter, just four full sentences into his DNC speech delivered the same night that President Obama spoke, used that “P” word that has practically disappeared from public political discourse among America’s elected leaders and leading media pundits.
Poverty grew by 27 percent increase across America from 2006-2010 according to an Indiana University study released earlier this year.
Poverty in America is “remarkably widespread” that study concluded.
Over fifty-million Americans are living in poverty the IU study stated.
That crushing condition guts over one-third of Philadelphia’s residents daily… the highest among American large cities.
And little surprise, that IU study noted that the largest increases in poverty afflicted Hispanics, African-Americans, children and households headed by women.
America’s child poverty ranks second-highest among 35 developed nations. (A three-person household with $17,900 annual income lives in poverty according to the federal government.)
It’s outrageously ironic that while poverty soars across America critically wounded by the wealth-greed enflamed Great Recession, anti-poverty discourse disappears from policy initiatives advanced by Democratic and Republican leaders.
Conservatives, especially Republicans, have long pushed the falsehood that America’s impoverished are solely responsible for their impoverishment.
That falsehood fudges foundational facts fanning impoverishment like what Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders castigates as America’s “grotesquely unfair distribution of wealth” — were the top 1 percent controls 41 percent of all wealth compared to the bottom 60 percent controlling just 2 percent of America’s wealth.
Irrespective of conflicted understandings about poverty’s root causes, at least one observable certainty exists about those tens of millions of Americans living in poverty or living near falling into poverty.
Not one among the tens-of-millions of impoverished were among the scores of millionaires/billionaires that recently paid a $1-million apiece for a private audience in Tampa Bay with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney aboard the ritzy 150’ yacht “Cracker Bay” that flew the flag of the Cayman Islands where the wealthy often off-shore income to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Mayor Nutter referenced the word poverty when extolling the necessity of all people acquiring solid educations. Nutter scored Republicans for slashing educational funding from kindergarten to college.
Nutter stated that education was essential for achieving his goals in Philadelphia that included reducing poverty.
“In Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “Our public safety, poverty reduction, health and economic development all start with education.”
Obama’s rare referencing of poverty, either from political reticence or refusal, has sparked criticism from within his political constituency.
“This year, both Governor Romney and President Obama at least mentioned the ‘P’ word in their convention speeches, but neither pledged to make the alleviation of poverty in America a priority,” Obama critic Tavis Smiley wrote recently.
It speaks volumes that self-applauded businessman Romney doesn’t practice what he preaches about the virtues of private enterprise generating paycheck producing jobs that keep people from falling into unemployment induced poverty.
Very few Black businesses around Tampa Bay, Fla., received any revenue from the millions of dollars expended on and generated by the RNC that recently anointed Romney.
The presidents of the Tampa Bay Black Chamber of Commerce and the Sun Coast African American Chamber of Commerce both said economic exclusion ruled at Tampa’s RNC.
“There was not big tent of inclusion,” said Tampa Bay Black Chamber head Willis Bowick. “The RNC had no real outreach to Black businesses here.”
Before dismissing this Tampa Bay Black business criticism of GOP exclusion as partisan soar-grapes recognize that Bowick is the president of the African-American Republican Club of Hillsborough County that includes Tampa Bay.
Shortly before the Tampa Bay RNC, a leading Republican activist in that city, Joseph Robinson, resigned from the GOP citing frustrations with the GOP’s persistent lack of response to issues important to African Americans including the lack of Black business inclusion at the RNC.
Robinson, who owns an engineering consulting firm, said things for blacks worsened within the GOP during the past few years paralleling the ascendancy of Tea Party influence.
“With the GOP they do not even give us trickle-down crumbs,” Robinson said.
In contrast to the black business exclusion at Tampa’s RNC, Black business received more equitable access to economic opportunities generated at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC.
Dr. Renae Sanders, chair of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Black Chamber of Commerce, said “several” Black owned companies received DNC related contracts including construction firms and event planners.
That Black business inclusion during the DNC, while commendable, does not off-set the exclusion Black businesses experienced in federal contracting from Obama’s ARRA stimulus.
Between Feb. 2009 and November 2010 black businesses received a paltry 3.5 percent of stimulus contracting compared to white firms receiving 81.3 percent of stimulus-funded contracts.
While the Democrat and Republican parties again pledged to protect Israel from external violence (increasingly exacerbated by Israel’s increasingly intransigent government) neither Obama nor Romney are addressing the urban violence epidemic wrecking America, as noted in a recent article by Philadelphia Tribune reporter Larry Miller.
Miller’s article quoted attorney/activist Michael Coard observing that neither Obama nor Romney address urban violence because “Romney doesn’t give a damn and Obama is afraid to give a damn.”
Civil Rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson recently said Obama “must address poverty and violence in a different way.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Fellowship Program.
A ban on outdoor feeding of the homeless in Philadelphia's parks is part of a broader strategy to combat homelessness, not an attempt to hide them from a tourist area where many of the city's most popular museums are located, Mayor Michael Nutter testified in federal court Tuesday.
Nutter defended the ban during about 90 minutes on the stand before a federal judge, saying it's also necessary to prevent the spread of any food-borne illnesses that could result from improper handling by well-meaning church groups. He also argued that many of the people being fed need more than just food, citing their need for services to help with substance abuse problems and mental health issues.
"For me, this is not just about a hungry individual," Nutter said. "They are not just hungry. They have other needs."
Four religious groups have challenged the ban, saying it infringes on their rights to freely assemble and practice their religion. Large groups of the city's homeless regularly gather on a stretch of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for food distribution, something the mayor said he's seen for years on his way to and from work. Nutter said outdoor feedings stretch city parks' resources and make it harder for social service agencies to reach the homeless.
"The challenge is that many of the individuals being served need more than a meal," he said, adding that those issues can be better dealt with at public and private facilities — not at feeding stations.
U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr. scheduled more oral arguments for Thursday. Chief Deputy Solicitor Craig Straw said the city would not enforce the ban before Yohn rules.
Under the city's plan, groups would be allowed to temporarily feed the homeless in a designated space near City Hall. That space, Nutter testified, has water and public toilets and would serve as a transitional location as more homeless are directed to four private indoor feeding locations downtown.
"It is not true that we don't have adequate facilities for indoor food services," he said.
Critics claim the city is trying to push the homeless away from the parkway that stretches from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A number of other museums, including the newly opened Barnes Foundation museum and the Rodin Museum, line the parkway.
Paul Messing, an attorney for plaintiffs, argued that there have been no reports of food-borne illnesses related to the parkway feedings and said the organizations conducting them don't just offer food.
Others who have done feedings on the parkway also testified that they have had fewer people attend the feedings since they've moved to the designated space by City Hall and that it has been more difficult for them to establish personal connections with them.
"These programs are providing more than just food," Messing said.
City recreation officials also testified that the public feedings in the parks were putting additional strain on parks department resources as city workers are forced to clean up resulting human waste, litter and rodents. After the feedings, the areas "become public toilets," said Christopher Palmer, director of operations and landscape management for the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Under the ban, violators can be punished by $150 fines. -- (AP)
Every Philadelphian already knows that the best place to celebrate America’s birthday is right here, in America’s birthplace. The annual Wawa Welcome America! Festival comes back next month with 10 patriotic days of family-friendly and free activities through Independence Day. This week-long, only-in-Philadelphia party kicks off on June 24 and culminates July 4 with a parade through Historic Philadelphia and a mega concert with Grammy Award-winning artists, complete with fireworks, at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This year’s musical director for the festival is Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, the headline drummer of Philly’s own neo-soul super group, The Roots.
Mayor Michael Nutter recently annouced this year’s Philly Fourth of July Jam will be literally “star”-spangled with some of the brightest and boldest talent on the national music scene descending on Philadelphia to offer an unparalleled entertainment experience.
“In Philadelphia, we save the best for last — an our festival grand finale is ‘The Largest Free Concert in America,’ the Philly 4th of July Jam,” said Nutter. “This year, we’ll welcome back Philadelphia’s own The Roots, to take the stage as the official house band for the Philly 4th of July Jam. They will be joined by an impressive array of some of the brightest and boldest musicians in the country, including Queen Latifah, Daryl Hall, Common, Joe Jonas and other special guests. The concert will end with a bang — literally — as fireworks illuminate the sky over one of the world’s architectural gems, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”
Wawa Welcome America! — the nation’s largest, free 4th of July festival — runs from June 25 to July 4, 2012. For more information, go to welcomeamerica.com or call (215) 683-2200.
For the past few months, travelers along I-95 have witnessed the transformation of the Philadelphia International Airport's parking garage. The structure’s once plain facade has undergone a facelift with a mural entitled “How Philly Moves” — a nearly 85,000 square foot mural incorporating the photographic work of artist and designer Jacques-Jean “JJ” Tiziou. The project was produced in cooperation with the City of Philadelphia Office of Transportation and Utilities and modifies the garages into a memorable “gateway” for travelers and visitors to the region, adding spectacular beauty and color to the airport’s landscape and enlivening the travel experience of millions. The mural took two years to complete and four months to install. The mural is the largest square footage of any project ever completed in the over 3,500 created by the Mural Arts Program, and is among the largest murals created in the United States.
“We are checking, but this may possibly be the largest mural in the world — and where else, but Philadelphia,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter during the recent dedication. “People across the country are looking at this, coming to see it and talk about it, especially this specific mural, ‘How Philly Moves.’”
Lead artist Tiziou photographed over 18,000 frames of 174 dancers of all ages, style, ability, race and gender, and the final design features images of 26 Philadelphians dancing, some over 60 feet high. Lead muralist Jonathan Laidacker and his team of assistants then created, painted and installed 1,504 panels of parachute cloth needed to make up the mural.
“'How Philly Moves’ is based on our longstanding commitment to public art,” explained Nutter. “It’s also about the celebration of the community. Over a thousand people worked on this mural and have been engaged in the education and design component. That really is the power of art — to bring people together to provide something that is so visually appealing, but is also unifying. I think that we have literally transformed the streetscape and the landscape and the view and vision of what Philly International Airport is all about.”
Over 1,000 people contributed to the painting as part of the community involvement process. The How Philly Moves project builds on Philadelphia’s mission to the production of public art and has established a dynamic and iconic new “postcard” image for the city.
“Let’s hear it for art!” enthused Jane Golden, Director, City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. “This is mural 3,665 — indoor and outdoor, big and little murals — created since 1984. I want you to think for a minute about art and the impact that it has and what it does to a city, and what it’s done over time. Think about all the public sculpture and art in this city. We are just part of this extraordinary collection of art in this city, and what art does is it inspires, it enlivens, it connects us to all that is human. And, you know, art for art’s sake is great in itself, but then there is something beyond that. Creative placemaking is that wonderful intersection between economic development, design and art, and it’s all about enlivening public spaces in the city, so it’s something that goes beyond what you see on a wall. Think about what an iconic project this is, and how it is this visual statement about the incredible dance community. It put people to work, it changed this parking structure so this is art and economic development.”
It’s about time that area caregivers received some giveback of their own. And the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation will do the honors during the National Child Care Teacher Awards ceremony, to be held on Thursday, April 19 at the Please Touch Museum.
District Attorney Seth Williams and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey will join Mayor Michael Nutter in making comments during the presentation, which will award 52 caregivers from across the country.
“Child care teachers, particularly those honored as our national award winners, are professionals. Their curriculum-based lesson plans are designed to further children’s natural creativity and stimulate curiosity to explore,” said TLLCCF Executive Director Allan Miller. “Teachers play a vital role in the development of the children. They introduce children to reading and writing, expanded vocabulary, creative arts, science and social studies.
“They use games, music, artwork, films, books, computers and other tools to teach concepts and skills.”
The award is designed to enhance current projects or assist caretakers in creating new ones, and 2012 marks the 18th year that TLLCCF has offered such awards; the non-profit organization teamed with McNeil Consumer Healthcare — the makers of Children’s Tylenol — for this year’s presentation. In all, TLLCCF has presented more than 685 awards valued at more than $650,000 to deserving caretakers, teachers and providers.
Providers such as two-time award winner Serena Spearman, who runs a home child care establishment from her West Philadelphia row home. Spearman is one of the eight local caregivers to receive the award; Spearman first won the award in 2006.
“My project will help the children and their families experience more hands-on reading skills. The literacy project will help the children learn to read by building their phonological skills through reciting stories, shared reading, family reading time and a variety of reading exploration materials,” said Spearman, a career caregiver with more than three decades of experience, noting that the proceeds from the award will assist families to encourage reading at home. “Infants will be able to have their library full of board books … measuring the quality of my language and literacy environment will represent an initial but important first step in strengthening and reinforcing pre-reading skills, particularly those who come from a family childcare environment.”
TLLCCF’s director echoed many of Spearman’s ideas. For him, assisting Spearman and others like her in educating the today’s youth is paramount.
“Preschool children learn mainly through investigation and play. Early care and education teachers capitalize on children’s play to further language and vocabulary development, improve social skills, introduce scientific and mathematical concepts, learn self-help skills and physical independence through play and social interaction,” Miller said. “When teachers have done their jobs well, they will have instilled a life-long love of learning in their young charges.”
In a new paper in the journal PLoSOne, a team of physicians and public health researchers report that African-American clergy say they are ready to join the fight against HIV by focusing on HIV testing, treatment and social justice.
“We in public health have done a poor job of engaging African-American community leaders, and particularly Black clergy members, in HIV prevention,” said Amy Nunn, lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine in the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
“There is a common misperception that African-American churches are unwilling to address the AIDS epidemic. This paper highlights some of the historical barriers to effectively engaging African-American clergy in HIV prevention and provides recommendations from clergy for how to move forward.”
The paper analyzes dozens of interviews and focus group data among 38 African-American pastors and imams in Philadelphia, where racial disparities in HIV infection are especially stark. Seven in 10 new infections in the city are among Black residents. Nearly all of the 27 male and 11 female clergy members said they would preach and promote HIV testing and treatment.
That message would provide a needed complement to decades of public health efforts that have emphasized risky behaviors, Nunn said. Research published and widely reported last year, for example, suggests that testing and then maintaining people on treatment could dramatically reduce new infections because treatment can give people a 96-percent lower chance of transmitting HIV.
According to the paper’s analysis, many religious leaders acknowledged that they struggled with how to cope with the epidemic, particularly with challenges related to discussing human sexuality in the church or mosque setting.
Many clergy members also said they face significant barriers to preaching about risky sexual behaviors while still emphasizing abstinence.
“It’s my duty as a preacher to tell people to abstain,” one pastor told the research team, “but if they’re still having sex and they’re getting HIV, there has to be another way to handle this.”
Many clergy members suggested couching the HIV/AIDS epidemic in social justice rather than behavioral terms, Nunn said. They also recommended focusing on HIV testing as an important means to help stem the spread of the disease and reduce the stigma.
In 2010, Nunn worked with prominent pastors, local media and Mayor Michael Nutter’s office of faith-based initiatives to promote and destigmatize HIV testing across the city. This year, she will partner with dozens of churches and community leaders to oversee an HIV prevention campaign that includes door-to-door testing in an entire zip code in Philadelphia with high infection rates.
Natalie Mitchem, pastor of Calvary AME Church and director of the First Episcopal District Health Commission, has been supportive of efforts to engage faith leaders in the fight against HIV. She says HIV awareness and education is a comprehensive part of the AME church’s health ministry.
“I feel like it’s a very significant, vitally important ministry for churches of all denominations. It’s important for us to share the messages about prevention and education in our congregations and in our communities — so that people know we care,” Mitchem says.
Nunn said religious leaders are willing to engage in dialogue and HIV prevention if it’s done in a culturally appropriate and faith-friendly way.
“This means that HIV prevention should be couched in social justice and public health rather than in exclusively behavioral terms. HIV testing should be the backbone of any strategy to engage African-American clergy in HIV prevention,” she said.
Officials preparing for London’s 2012 Olympics expect millions to visit the British capital and attend the world’s premiere athletic competition, scheduled to run from Friday, July 27, through Sunday, August 12.
But when the Olympic torch is snuffed out at the conclusion of the games, what happens to the Olympics site and its facilities built for the competitions?
The job of transforming the London Olympics site and its facilities into long-term use has for the past three years been the responsibility of an American-born, urban designer who graduated from Temple University, and who worked for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration as deputy mayor.
Andrew Altman is the chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, the entity tasked with plotting post-Olympics games development for the 500 acre site in East London that hosts most of the Olympics events and primary supporting services like the massive media center for the 20,000 journalists scheduled to work the games.
So how did an American obtain this pivotal post for the 2012 London Olympics, the third Olympics held in that city since 1908?
“The London Legacy Corporation asked [Altman] for recommendations to head up that very important Olympic venture. The more they talked to him and heard his ideas, the more they liked him for the position,” Oliver St. Clair Franklin said.
Philadelphia businessman Franklin, who frequently travels to London, knows Altman. Franklin serves as the Honorary British Consul for Philadelphia.
“Andy is a good Philly fellow and brings a unique vision to the planning process because he understands the commercial [aspect] as well as the elements of planning,” Franklin said.
Altman said professional associates urged him to apply for the CEO post he received in 2009, so he gave it a try.
“My name was mentioned because I worked before with the London School of Economics,” Altman said.
Altman graduated from Temple University with a degree in urban geography before obtaining a graduate degree in city planning. He’s held planning positions in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Oakland, working as Philadelphia’s First Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development when he was tapped for the LLDC post.
Altman has generated praise, according to numerous reports, for his key role in devising the vision for transitioning the Olympics site after the games into a new community that will eventually have nearly 8,000 new homes plus commercial and recreational facilities. The site is officially known as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park,
As one published account stated, Altman “helped re-envision” the previous master plan for the park’s post-Olympics development.
“This was always about a regeneration project, an urban redevelopment project,” Altman said last fall when he met with a group of Temple University students who were studying in London.
“This place was an absolute dump,” Altman said, referencing the main Olympics site built atop old, industrial wasteland once shunned for being highly toxic.
Building on that site required cleaning over a million tons of toxic soil, scrubbed in specially constructed washing machines.
The Olympics site in East London abuts some of the poorest neighborhoods in London, and the entirety of England, a striking contrast to other sections of the increasingly gentrified city.
“This is literally a massive stimulus program for London,” Altman said when talking with the Temple students. “Our task with Legacy is to make sure we pass the “white elephant” test … will these things benefit East London?”
Finding an owner for the main Olympic stadium, transforming other competition sites like the Aquatics Center into a public swimming facility and building an eco-friendly park along the long-polluted River Lea are elements of Altman’s work paralleling construction of new residential neighborhoods on the site.
Turning the Athlete’s Village into residential use is a component of that neighborhood transformation.
Altman said that half of the housing in the Athlete’s Village, located in London’s Stratford section, “is already designated for local residents and low-income.”
The envisioned new neighborhoods in the park will feature mixed income [housing] — unlike the current low-income and increasingly gentrified upper-income.
“There are few opportunities for the middle-class, forcing many families to move outside of London. We are looking to rebalance the area from lower to upper income,” Altman said.
Altman, last month, announced his resignation as LLDC head, effective when the main games conclude in August.
“It has been a tremendous honor to lead this once-in-a-lifetime project that will transform the face of London and will be a spectacular example of city-building the world over,” Altman stated in a London media account.
That media account credited Altman for leadership “in laying the foundations for London’s Olympic legacy” leaving the capital with more advanced planning and execution “than any prior host city.”
Mayor Michael Nutter and officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development are expected to sign an agreement this week keeping the Philadelphia Housing Authority under federal control for the near future.
“For a variety of reasons PHA, HUD and the Nutter administration believe that we should continue in the same mode for some period of time to come,” said Mark McDonald, Nutter’s spokesman, citing the fact that PHA remains at the center of several ongoing investigations, and legislation regarding its governance remains pending in Harrisburg. “There are a variety of investigations and studies being done by the federal government, and consequently, this isn’t the moment.”
Nutter is expected to sign the agreement Wednesday.
Unlike the previous agreement, which placed PHA under the authority of a federal receiver and ceded authority to HUD for a year, the new agreement is expected to allow HUD to remain in control for a period of months.
McDonald was unsure how long.
Director Michael Kelly said the agency is on firm footing and should revert to local control “soon.”
The scrutiny generated by Carl Greene’s departure has ultimately strengthened PHA, he said.
“We may be one of the strongest agencies in the whole country right now,” he said. “Because we spent the last year revising our systems and procedures. It’s the kind of improvement most housing authorities don’t think about, because they’re not under the kind of heavy scrutiny that we’ve been put under.”
In the 18 months since Greene’s exit, PHA has created a legal department, eliminating the use of outside attorneys, a practice established by Greene; created an audit department and put in place new procurement and contract rules and procedures.
But, Kelly said he was most proud of the less tangible changes at the agency.
“I feel very strongly about a very profound cultural shift of how people interact with each other around here, interact with clients and interact with our stakeholders,” Kelly said. “I’m most proud of the things you can’t see.”
PHA was placed under Kelly’s authority as federal receiver and a HUD commissioner – one person who replaced the previous board of five local members – last March after the board resigned to facilitate a federal takeover of the scandal plagued agency.
Since the takeover, two commissioners have overseen the agency.
Currently, Karen Newton-Cole, acting chief of human resources at HUD, administers the agency. Prior to her appointment, Deputy Secretary of HUD, Estelle Richman served as commissioner. She resigned in September, after receiving the promotion to deputy secretary.
The takeover was the result of a series of shakeups that started in August 2010 when news broke that Greene, the former director who was fired in September 2010, had been accused of sexual harassment on at least four different occasions, and used PHA money to pay for out of court settlements, all unknown to the board.
The fallout generated by the scandal prompted at least three investigations: by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and HUD - and numerous audits, one of which is expected to be made public next month. Kelly said three investigations remain open.
In addition, it raised questions in Harrisburg and resulted in two bills proposing new governance for the agency.
At the moment, the mayor picks two board members, the city controller selects two and those four choose a fifth member who is required to be PHA resident.
Under one of the proposals, now before the state Senate, the mayor would appoint nine commissioners, three of whom would subject to city council approval. In the second proposal, now in the House, the mayor would appoint five commissioners; city council would choose two and PHA residents elect two.
McDonald said the administration thought it wise to allow PHA to remain under federal control until some of those outstanding issues are resolved.
“While a lot of great things have occurred, you still have outstanding questions,” he said.
Among the things McDonald listed was a significant cultural shift under Kelly’s leadership.
“He has done a good job. There is no longer the kind of fear and worry that existed under the old regime,” said McDonald. “Its just that they’re not to a point where anybody wants to change the current status.”
The city’s move to base property taxes on the actual value of a property rather than a millage based assessment will hit gentrifying neighborhoods the hardest, the head of the Office of Property Assessment told members of City Council this week.
“When you have neighborhoods that are evolving, some of the younger, yuppie individuals will buy the most basic house, almost literally in shell condition, just because they want to get in,” Richie McKeithen, head of the assessment office told Council members during budget hearings on Wednesday. “That’s how neighborhoods increase in desirability and increase in valuation.”
The price new buyers pay for their home will ultimately serve as part of the basis for their neighbors’ tax bills. Under the new system, called the Actual Value Initiative, property taxes will be driven by recent sales of comparable properties and demand in individual neighborhoods. Other factors, like size and condition, will also affect tax bills.
But, with sales value playing a larger role in determining property taxes, longtime residents could face large increases in their tax bills.
“We’re going to really hurt some folks who have not moved out of the city, not moved to southern New Jersey, not moved to Delaware County,” said Councilman Jim Kenney. “They’re going to get this bill in the mail that it is going to knock them off their kitchen chair.”
Politically, the issue is complicated by the fact that many new homeowners can avoid paying property taxes for 10 years under the city’s tax abatement rules — pitting new residents against old.
“I don’t want to chase folks out of town because certain neighborhoods are doing better than they have done in the past 20 years,” Kenney said.
It is a scenario that has many Council members, some of whom have agreed to tax increases in each of the last three years, worried as they face their confused and angry constituents. Council members are also frustrated by the fact that they have so little information for their constituents.
City officials have repeatedly said they hope to have assessments on paper and mailed to residents by October, with new bills out by December.
But, Council has to approve a budget based on revenue figures linked to new assessments by May, long before the administration hopes to have a handle on just which direction property taxes are moving.
“There is significant concern about wrapping up this process, from Council’s perspective, without a real sense of the actual values and what we’ll ultimately be voting on,” said Council President Darrell Clarke.
Council members have been pressing the administration for new assessment numbers as soon as possible. McKeithen said this week he hoped to be able to provide data snapshots of certain neighborhoods by May, then added, “That depends on what happens. I oftentimes run into roadblocks, so it’s hard to commit.”
Most sources expect a rise in values, despite the recession.
In putting together the fiscal 2013 budget, the administration assumed, overall, a 25 percent increase in values since assessments were frozen in early 2010. That rise in value translates roughly to an 8 percent increase in taxes for the average homeowner. Administration officials have stressed that some residents could see their taxes go down.
Finance Director Rob Dubow said the administration would put together numbers that reflect market values and average assessed values for neighborhoods across the city, which can serve as an indicator of what residents might expect.
“That won’t be exactly what happens with assessments, but it will give you some general idea,” he said.
The administration has taken steps to try and ease the pain of new tax bills, Dubow said, noting that it plans to implement a “smoothing process” which will allow taxpayers to stretch payments on their new tax bills out over the next three years. Administration officials are also hoping to enact a homestead exemption that would allow residents to cut $15,000 off their property tax bill for their primary residence. There is some uncertainty as to whether or not that will happen, as it requires the approval of the state legislature. A bill is pending in Harrisburg, but it’s unclear whether it will pass.
“We’re happy to talk about other possibilities that could help with these issues,” Dubow told Council members.
Though there seems to uniform agreement among council members, Mayor Michael Nutter and members of the administration that an overhaul of the property tax system is necessary, Council and the mayor have been sparring over when and how to implement a new system.
Administration officials want to have the new system in place by the end of the year. As Nutter put it recently to reporters: “It’s time to bite the bullet.”
Some Council members want to wait until next year to move on actual value, putting off any decisions until Council has time to see and digest all the information relating to the new values.
“There has been no analysis done in terms of what the impact might be in Philadelphia,” said Council President Darrell Clarke. “I’d be interested to know that.”
Hoping to finally end its haggling with Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration, the firefighter’s union, this week, asked the courts to force the mayor to abide by the city’s latest contract with firefighters.
“We will not wait any more,” said Bill Gault, president of Philadelphia Fire Fighters’ Union, Local 22. “For the past four years, firefighters and paramedics have worked without a raise, risking our lives every day to protect the citizens of Philadelphia.”
Firefighters were awarded a contract on July 2 by a panel of three arbitrators. It granted union members a 9 percent pay raise and protected them from furlough days, while at the same time forcing changes in members’ pension and health care plans.
Under the terms of the agreement, backdated to July 1, 2009, and very similar to a previous agreement, the city would contribute more to member’s health care and benefits, but new hires would be forced into a 401(k) type retirement plan.
Though that ruling was recent, the city and the union have been battling over a contract since 2010, when arbitrators awarded a contract that was also appealed by the city. That award was set aside by the Court of Common Pleas after a judge ordered both sides to return to arbitration.
“They’re going to keep on appealing until they get what they want?” asked attorney Ralph J. Teti, who is representing the union in the case, filed Tuesday in Common Pleas Court. “I don’t think there is any statute … that reads that way. If they want [the law] to read that way, they ought to go visit the legislature. They had their shot at it, now it’s time to enforce the award.”
Nutter declined to comment on the suit, saying that the city’s attorneys were reviewing the court action.
“I don’t know what instigated that, but anybody can file a suit about whatever they want,” he said.
Contracts between the city, police and firefighters are governed by a state law called Act 111. It forbids police and firefighters from striking, and provides arbitration as a way for both sides to reach an agreement.
“We cannot strike,” Gault said. “Instead, we are given the opportunity to turn our issues over to an impartial third party for final and binding arbitration. Then, we live with the results.”
The mayor and firefighters have been at odds almost since the mayor took office in 2008. Members of the police union also received an award from arbitration. It included a provision that allowed the city to furlough police officers for up to 30 days a year. When asked why the administration has fought a settlement with firefighters, Gault said he thought furloughs were the reason.
Because the recent agreement was backdated and ends July 1, 2013, Local 22, which has about 4,000 active and retired members, is due to begin the negotiating process all over again in about six weeks, Gault said.