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July 22, 2014, 5:23 am

PICA to decide on proposed city budget

In a final hurdle for the city’s proposed $3.6 billion budget and related five-year plan, the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority is expected to vote the plan up or down later this week.

One critic is urging the board to veto the administration’s five-year plan, citing concerns over unresolved contract issues.

“This five-year financial plan just does not add up,” said Brett Mandel, a candidate for controller and frequent administration critic, in an open letter to PICA posted on his website.

The five-member PICA board is scheduled to vote on the five-year plan Thursday. It is the last hurdle for the city’s budget, which includes a 3.6 percent property tax increase, and an additional $40 million for city schools. If the board vetoes the five-year plan, the state can begin to withhold funding to the city.

Board president Sam Katz could not be reached for comment Monday.

However, in remarks published last week, Katz said he couldn’t say where the board stood.

“PICA is five independent people. We’re not monolithic,” he told The Inquirer.

Mandel focuses his objections on the fact that the city is in court over a recent arbitration award with the firefighters’ union, and has not reached a contract deal with either of its large municipal unions.

“If the arbitration award is upheld, the five-year plan is in the red,” wrote Mandel. “Even if the city wins its appeal on the current contract and the arbitration award is reconsidered, the firefighters are due a new contract next year.”

City Finance Director Rob Dubow defended the plan.

“It doesn’t include the arbitration award, because we appealed it,” he said.

However, if the arbitration award stands, city officials estimate the cost of the contract, which provides firefighters with a nine percent pay raise over four years, would cost the city $200 million.

“If a judge upholds it, there will be additional costs to the plan,” Dubow said, adding that would means cuts to services. He could not say where they might come.

“We would have to figure out how to deal with that cash problem,” he said. “It’s kind of speculative to say exactly what we would do.”

In a further glitch for financial planners, the award, though only made in July, is for a contract that goes back in time to 2009. Negotiations for a new contract are expected to start this fall.

Similarly, the city has not had a contract with its municipal workers since 2009.

“City white-and blue-collared employees have been working without a contract for years and deserve a contract that takes into account increases in the cost of living,” he said, adding that it is unrealistic for the plan to assume that won’t happen.

“It is simply inconceivable that Philadelphia will somehow make it through the next five years, not only without a single extra dollar being spent on increased costs for our municipal workforce,” Mandel said. “Even if it were possible to believe that Mayor [Michael] Nutter could achieve these savings and avoid any future costs during his mayoralty, it is certainly not prudent to believe that we can forecast similar achievements into the next mayor’s tenure, which will commence before the end of this five-year plan.”

Dubow said the administration hopes to reach agreements with its municipal workers, but added that any costs would have to be recaptured in budget savings elsewhere.

“We’re assuming … that they’ll offset each other,” Dubow said.

He hoped the plan passes on Thursday.

“It’s our job is address concerns and convince voting members of the board that the plan is reasonable,” he said.

 

Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at (215) 893-5742 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .