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July 12, 2014, 5:05 pm

City’s budget faces state scrutiny

Board delays vote amid concerns over lack of raises for municipal workers

 

The city’s amended five-year plan faces deeper scrutiny by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority after board members on Thursday put off a vote on the administration’s spending plan.

“Quite frankly, I think they realized that the plan they submitted on July 27 was not going to be approved,” said Sam Katz, PICA board president. “It’s better, in my opinion, that there be no record that PICA disapproved the plan.”

A veto by PICA would give the state cause to cut off its subsidies to the city, and in the words of Finance Director Rob Dubow, cause “cash flow problems.”

“We now have to dig into what’s been submitted and determine whether it meets the reasonable test,” Katz said.

Katz said a vote would be taken on or before Aug. 27, the state deadline for approval, and that he expected action much sooner, possibly as early as next week.

He and the board’s other four members expressed a number of concerns during their regularly scheduled board meeting. Their chief worry centered on the fact that the plan submitted in July included no raises for firefighters or any of the city’s blue or white collar workers. Firefighters have an arbitration award that gives them a 9 percent pay raise, dating back to 2009, and expected to cost $200 million over five years. The other two major unions, District Councils 33 and 47, have been working without a contract since Mayor Michael Nutter came to office.

“Zero in the face of two arbitration awards was not a reasonable assumption,” Katz said. “My concern about the way this was unfolding is that we will reach a point, now or at some point in the future, when all of this accumulates to a number that makes Philadelphia unaffordable for everybody.”

To the delight of union leaders, Katz urged the administration to finalize contracts with firefighters, white and blue collar workers.

“Then we’ll have basis of looking at the next five years - not on assumptions, but on actual agreements,” he said.

The 16 pages of amendments to the plan, submitted on Wednesday by the administration, included a range of cuts going as high as 5 percent for each department and amounting to a $260 million total.

It would include the elimination of 380 positions — including more than 100 firefighters.

“Our biggest area of expenditures is personnel,” Dubow said.

The plan does not include any cuts to the police department.

In response to the charge that the city’s figures were a political scare tactic, Dubow said cuts, though just submitted to PICA, were part of the budget process and generated this spring as department heads prepared the budget unveiled in March.

Union leaders praised the PICA board for the delay and criticized the amended plan and its deep cuts.

“It’s crazy,” said Bill Gault, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 22. “More of my members will die. My people have been three years without a raise … and now they present a budget to PICA that goes nine years without a raise. It just seems to be vindictiveness.”

Cathy Scott, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 47 echoed Gault.

“The addendum that’s been presented is really just more smoke and mirrors from this administration,” she said, noting that under existing contracts, the city cannot lay off municipal workers. “I would say it’s time that this five-year plan really gets looked at. The mayor has to get real about this budget.

Scott said the city and its unions have not met since May.

“He can’t continue kicking the can down the road,” she said.

Katz said he hoped that as PICA studied the plan, other possibilities might emerge.

“It would be draconian for the city to have to implement that level of cuts,” Katz said. “I suspect there will be other options that we’ll discuss.”

 

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. .