Residents of Dimock, a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania and the focal point of the national debate over natural gas drilling, need to await more testing before the federal government decides whether it will provide drinking water, said Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“This isn’t a situation where the EPA can come in and just say ‘water for everyone,’” Jackson told reporters gathered on Friday at the Academy of Natural Sciences. “Someone is paying for that water, and that’s the federal government. We have to make sure that we meet the scientific and legal test that will allow us to do that. We’re doing that as quickly as we can.”
She declined to say when the needed tests might be concluded, or whether the federal government would provide water.
“The decision has not been made yet,” she said.
Jackson was in Philadelphia for an unrelated matter, a forum on creating environmentally friendly and economically sustainable cities that included Mayor Michael Nutter and Brazil’s minister of the environment, Izabella Teixeria.
Recent events in Dimock cast a shadow over the event.
About 50 protestors — concerned about the environmental impact of a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing and more commonly known as fracking — stood in front of the museum chanting “Lisa Jackson, we need action!” Several Philadelphia officials — led by City Council members Curtis Jones and Blondell Reynolds Brown — have spoken out against fracking, citing the fact that the city is downstream of many of the gas wells.
Craig Sautner and his wife Julie had driven about three hours from Dimock to confront the EPA’s top official.
“We have no time to wait for test results to come back. We need water now,” said Craig. “You can’t be playing with people lives like that.”
He contends that a natural gas well drilled by Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. contaminated his water.
A state investigation found that 18 wells in the Susquehanna County village were contaminated after natural gas drilling began there in 2008.
Nearly a dozen residents have sued Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., claiming the energy company caused the contamination when it used fracking, a method that has spurred a boom in natural gas drilling in several states while raising concerns about the toll on the environment and public health.
Cabot denies contaminating the wells, saying most wells in the region were laced with methane long before the arrival of drilling. Nevertheless, the company trucked in fresh water for the residents to use for bathing and washing clothes and dishes. The deliveries stopped Nov. 30, after state regulators determined that Cabot had fulfilled its obligations to the residents under a 2010 consent agreement.
Last week, federal officials told residents the government would deliver water for them to use. Then, 24 hours later, abruptly changed their mind.
“You can’t get our hopes up like this and dash them to pieces within a day,” Sautner said. “It’s like a roller coaster ride, and it’s time that this ride stopped. Cabot Oil and Gas took away our water, and we want it back.”
Jackson characterized the incident as “miscommunication,” and said she empathized, but that the EPA needed to meet legal and scientific requirements before it could act.
“We are not allowed to spend money on oil or gas, per se, so it has to be a release of synthetic chemicals that now threatens water supplies that is the legal test, and I know that’s frustrating,” she said. “This is all about whether it’s contaminated, whether it poses a threat and whether, scientifically and legally, there is a need to give water,” she said.
Sautner was obviously frustrated.
“People shouldn’t be without access to clean drinking water in their own homes,” he said. “It’s time that they were held accountable for their actions. The EPA has a right and a responsibility to step in when it’s clear that the PA DEP has reneged on its duty to protect our rights as citizens.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Well before the election results were finalized – but apparently with President Barack Obama’s re-election within sight – Mayor Michael Nutter joined state Democratic heavyweights Congressman Chaka Fattah and Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz in celebrating Pennsylvania’s strong voter turnout and the state once again carrying Obama.
The Pennsylvania for Obama campaign held the post-poll election night celebration at the Warwick Hotel on Rittenhouse Square, and was organized as a way for the statewide re-election campaign to thank the volunteers, campaign committee workers and local Obama coalition members for their unwavering support.
“Four more years!” an exhuberantFattah repeated amid the din of an enthusiastic crowd, pointing out that Obama’s record warranted his re-election, his winning of Pennsylvania and the electoral votes that go with it. “We want to thank each and every person in the state of Pennsylvania, and particularly in the Philadelphia region, here in Philly and Montgomery County, Delaware and Bucks. Our president has done an extraordinary job, and clearly because of the success here in Pennsylvania and what we see of his success across the country, our president is going to have four more years to continue to do that work.”
Fattah had reason outside of Obama’s re-election to celebrate, as Fattah won his own re-election bid after cruising to a victory over Republican challenger Robert Mansfield Jr. Schwartz, like Fattah, also won her re-election bid, outpointing Republican Joe Rooney.
“I want to thank each and every one of you, because tonight is a great victory for Pennsylvania. It shows Pennsylvania bleeds deeper blue than anyone expected,” Schwartz said, after being introduced by Fattah, who praised Schwartz for her efforts on the health care law. “A lot of you did what we asked, knocking on doors. [Voters] understood what was at stake in this country, and they were determined to vote.
“They didn’t care how long they had to wait, and they didn’t care how hard the state made it to come out and vote,” Schwartz continued. “They were going to stand there and vote. Pennsylvania did a great job today.”
Nutter, who serves as president of the United States Conference of Mayors, and has stumped nationwide for Obama, praised Fattah as the “Education Congressman” and Schwartz as the “Healthcare Congresswoman” before turning his remarks to Obama’s re-election.
“We talked about it, and then we voted about it. And I think we had some voting in Philadelphia and some voting in Pennsylvania,” Nutter said. “At least for tonight, blue represents joy, happiness and excitement.
“They talked about voter ID and suppression,” Nutter continued, “Voter ID or no voter ID, suppression or no suppression, folks said, ‘we’re going to vote, we’re going to vote strong, we’re going to vote hard, and you can’t stop this freight train here in Philadelphia.’”
Nutter said, through his travels as an Obama surrogate, that the only way to win an election is through a grassroots effort that includes going from door to door, going to polling places and having a sharp and effective ground game. Nutter also spoke glowingly of Obama’s record.
“Obama has worked hard, and he worked for us, and then we went out and worked for him,” Nutter said. “He brought us economic recovery, brought back the auto industry, gave us healthcare, ended one of the wars and is ending the other one, Osama bin Laden is dead and gone, al-Qaeda is on the run and he doubled the amount of Pell Grants for young people to go to college. You can now stay on your parent’s healthcare until you’re 26.”
The enthusiasm continued unabated as television screens flashed the smiling face of the 44th president. For his supporters at the Warwick Hotel, his victory was theirs, too.
Democrats are warning that vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s much-discussed budget proposal would “devastate” public and higher education in Pennsylvania.
“While President Obama has worked to make quality affordable education available and accessible to all, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s budget plan would, in fact, reverse that progress,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “Pennsylvania students would feel a devastating impact … all while preserving historic tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.”
The Obama campaign pulled together Nutter, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn from South Carolina and two teachers from Philadelphia public schools — Juanita Leyath, a speech therapist and Padraic McCaffery, an English and social studies teacher — to condemn the possibility of budget cuts to federal education spending should the Republicans seize the White House on Nov. 6.
Clyburn laid out the party’s point of view, saying that congressional Democrats, along with the president, have worked to lower the barriers to education.
“Just one example is the Pell Grant,” he said. “We took $60 million that would be going to banks to administer the program and turned the program into a direct loan so that colleges and universities would be able to direct those resources to the students themselves … we were able to double the number of students getting Pell Grants, and we were able to increase the grant size from around $4,600 per pupil to around $5,400 per pupil.”
Congress also provided $2 billion more for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, he said.
A Republican White House would reverse those gains, the two men agreed.
Nutter laid out a series of specific numbers, projections from the Obama campaign as to how the Romney/Ryan budget could impact Pennsylvania schools. The figures were based on across the board cuts under Ryan’s plan, which would slash federal spending by about 20 percent over the next decade.
According to those figures: $186 million in cuts for public schools, 12,000 fewer spots in Head Start, an average cut of $810 college scholarships for 313,000 Pennsylvania college students and 9,180 fewer work study positions for state college students.
In May, Romney visited a school in West Philadelphia, where he called for larger class sizes.
“Every second grader knows that’s not right,” Nutter said.
Romney has said he would not necessarily implement the Ryan budget, which includes $5.3 trillion in spending cuts — but since choosing Ryan as his running mate a week ago, debate on the plan has dominated the national conversation. While Ryan has laid out a plan that includes a set of sweeping numbers, he has consistently declined to get specific about exactly where he would cut or what tax deductions he would eliminate in an effort to balance the federal budget.
Leyath said she’s seen the impact of Obama’s plans personally. A teacher in Olney and the Northeast, she said the president’s stimulus package kept teachers working, allowing the district to keep class sizes smaller which ultimately benefits her students, who are “overwhelmingly Latino or African-American, or who come from low-income families.”
“I am standing with the president because I have seen how much he had done these last four years,” she said. “I know he is the man to keep us moving forward.”
The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program announced Monday the launch of an eight-month-long mural project to honor the legacy, achievements and role of the Grammy Award-winning band, The Roots, in the pantheon of great American bands and continuum of accomplished Philadelphia musicians. The Roots Mural Project will tell the story of The Roots — especially Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter’s founding of the band — from the genesis to the present day.
Thompson and Trotter met at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts and practiced their musical craft on South Street. Since their 1987 founding, they have become icons in the world of hip-hop musicians, lyricists, producers and showmen. Currently, The Roots serve as the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” on NBC and will release their 13th studio album, “Undun,” in four weeks.
“Even though I’m a musician, I kind of identify a bit more with the visual arts aspect of being an artist because that’s the world that I come from,” said Trotter. “I come from summer art camp at Fairmount Park and Saturday art classes at Fleischer Art Memorial in South Philly. I come from writing graffiti on all these walls, you know, climbing on all these roofs and all these buildings that you see in the South Street area. So, I’m definitely a Philadelphia artist, and that Philadelphia spirit is definitely in me. And, for Philly to be such an artistic city and to be recognized as such a beautiful city because of all these murals that have gone up over the years — to be recognized with one of these murals depicting The Roots is just, like, mind blowing.”
Trotter recalled his early artistic endeavors that landed him in community service time thus making his work with MAP mandatory. “Some of the people, who were in the ’80s writing their names right along with me, are now instructors in the Mural Arts Program,” explained Trotter to a bemused gathering. “I had to do these mural during my summers and Saturdays — it’s just an amazing blessing, and it’s so ironic for there to be a legal mural going up of The Roots. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that something like this would be taking place.”
Members of The Roots will take an active role throughout the development of the project. From participating in Roots 101 and painting with the public at Community Paint Days, the band will be present and involved throughout the eight months, including design review and the final dedication of the mural.
“It really is an honor to be a part of this announcement — a multifaceted, interactive tribute to a couple of our native sons and a Philly-based band,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “These guys really are heroes, and need to be recognized — not just because of their Grammy Awards, the millions of records sold or millions of folk who tune in to catch them on ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,’ which are impressive accomplishments in themselves — but these guys are heroes because they took their childhood love of music and their education talent to become respected, talented and innovative professionals from Philly. They could have done anything, they could go anywhere, they could be anywhere, they stayed right here in Philadelphia and made our city their home-base, perfecting their craft and their talent and simultaneously changing hip-hop and the entire music industry.”
Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program made a call for proposals to begin the process of selecting the artist or artist teams that will be responsible for engaging the community in all phases of the mural-making process, from design through execution. The proposal can be downloaded on the Mural Arts Program website here: http://muralarts.org/about/jobs-artist-opportunities. The deadline is Nov. 21.
Eliminating start-up fees, lower privilege tax get bipartisan support
Two tax bills — intended to eliminate business start up fees and cut the city’s business privilege tax — moved out of committee this week.
Both had council leadership’s stamp of approval and the endorsement of the mayor.
“At the end of the day we were all seriously working to make sure that our businesses seriously benefit in the city of Philadelphia,” said Majority Leader Marian Tasco, at a press conference late Monday afternoon, held to announce that both bill had been approved by the finance committee.
High business taxes and licensing fees have long been blamed for pushing business from the city to the suburbs.
In combination, the bills were expected to cut taxes by more than $70 million.
“The proposals in front of us today are the kinds of things we’ve been in favor of,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, who took the unusual step of publicly endorsing the tax measures before they were presented to the full council. “We’re still in challenging economic times, but we need to do something to jump start our own situation.”
The first bill, sponsored by Councilman Jim Kenney, would waive the business privilege tax for new businesses that employ at least five city residents full-time in their first year, and add five full-time jobs, again for city residents, in the second year. In addition, the $50 business privilege license fee would be waived, as would all related business license fees.
The business privilege tax is 1.415 mills on gross receipts (one mill equals one tenth of one percent) and 6.45 percent on taxable net income. In addition, new businesses pay licensing fees ranging from $50 to $500 before they can open in the city. Those fees would be waived — though the licenses would still be required.
Kenney, who said that while official unemployment figures put unemployment at 11 percent, that number is probably closer to 25 percent, adding that he hoped the bill would spur job creation in the city.
“I think the problem we’re facing in this country and in this city is unemployment,” he said. “These two bills will hopefully break the jam. To allow people, again, to think about coming to the city and staying in the city.”
A second, sponsored by council members Bill Green and Maria Quinones-Sanchez, would provide a $100,000 exemption on the gross-receipts portion of the business-privilege tax and exempt the first $100,000 in sales for the net-income portion on the first $100,000 in sales. It also included a provision called single sales factor apportionment, taxing just sales made in the city.
“Philadelphia city government… sent a clear message to the business community in the region and the nation: Philadelphia is open for business,” said Green. “We want you here. We want you to create jobs here.”
Hitting the pavement, Mayor Michael Nutter and newly elected Councilman Kenyatta Johnson took a walking tour of the Point Breeze neighborhood this week, launching a larger tour as Nutter seeks to take the entire city’s pulse as he enters his second term.
“I like to see what’s going on myself,” said the mayor, who with Johnson, who now represents the 2nd Councilmanic District, and several ranking police officers took a walking tour along 21st Street near Mifflin Street on Wednesday morning. “You’d be surprised what you can learn if you keep your mouth shut and listen.”
The section of Point Breeze — part of what is sometimes known as “the box” — is notorious for crime and drug activity. Philadelphia Weekly named it one of the top ten drug areas in the city in 2007.
As he opens his second term, the mayor is visiting neighborhoods across the city to highlight key priorities — crime reduction, education and poverty.
“We have to drive our crime rates down and education rates up,” he said.
Point Breeze was chosen because it is one of the neighborhoods selected to take part in the Philly Rising Collaborative, a plan that aims to revitalize neighborhoods using resident input and participation to drive change.
“The community can only move forward … if the people participate,” Johnson said.
After a routine start, and a sit-down with several community leaders for a brief question and answer session, Nutter and Johnson took a walking tour through the neighborhood to inspect some of the alleys cleared out by Philly Rising, in one of its neighborhood improvement initiatives.
On his first of several planned neighborhood tours, Nutter got a true taste of the streets.
At a couple of houses, knots of curious residents stood on their porches, eyes following the entourage as it moved north on 21st Street. One man got into a brief confrontation with police officers after voicing concerns that the group had “pushed up on him.” Nutter kept moving. The man was quickly quieted down by police brass and ambled south on 21st Street, where he lounged at the northwest corner of McKean smoking a cigarette and talking to buddies — who kept a watchful eye on the group of officials.
Just a few steps more and Nutter ran into Michelle Burton, whose son — Stephon, 24 — was murdered Nov. 14 at 21st and Mifflin.
“Why don’t they have his murderers arrested?” she asked, her voice rising as she gave the mayor and Johnson her version of events.
According to Burton, her son was gunned down at about 7:30 p.m. by people everyone in the neighborhood knew, and his murderers were still roaming the streets. One, she said, was still attending school and going about his daily routine as if nothing had happened.
“They’re still running the streets,” Burton said, characterizing the men she suspected as ‘wannabe thugs.’ “I’m trying to get them off the streets.”
The two men listened patiently as the distraught woman talked — then Nutter quietly asked her a few questions. Were people helping police?
“People is afraid to talk,” answered Burton.
She didn’t seem convinced that it would help anyway.
“Five people died in this block, and we saw no police cars,” she said.
As he pressed on, Nutter urged Burton to talk to one of the officers accompanying him.
“One murder is too many,” he said, adding that crime in the Point Breeze section had fallen in every category over the last year. He admitted that statistics were little comfort.
“There is the numbers, and then there is how you feel,” he said.
Some residents do feel better.
“From summer to now, I see a change in the area,” said Adell Mack, a long-time resident.
The alley cleanup done by Philly Rising may seem like a small thing, she said, but it changes the feel of the neighborhood. The alleys were often a conduit for crime, providing cover for thieves and drug dealers.
In addition, Philly Rising has given residents a place to turn when they need help.
“We just needed someone to call,” she said, adding that in the past, calls to city officials were ignored. “They fell on deaf ears.”
Now, she hopes the momentum of change will help transform the character of the entire neighborhood.
“We’re looking to do more,” Mack said.
Philadelphia, like most major cities in America, has become littered with teddy bear and candlelight shrines marking the violent deaths of young Black men and women.
Murder, particularly by gun violence, has become so prevalent and so pervasive among young Black males that it is the number one cause of death for those between the ages of 17 to 25. The well-documented statistics and the numerous causes of the violence are the subject of a three-day national conference being held in Philadelphia.
Call to Action: National Conference on Black on Black Violence as a Social Epidemic and Deployment of Workable Solutions, is being held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Presented by the Father’s Day Rally Committee, community and political leaders, criminal justice officials and members of the faith-based community are meeting to discuss strategies for reducing the number of homicides by 25 percent. Participants will look at evidence-based information on effective crime prevention programs, i.e., best practices, with the goal of replicating successful programs in their own communities.
“In today’s session we’re sharing programs and their success across the country,” Bilal Qayyum said. “We’re examining best practices to determine if a program in Philadelphia can work in Baltimore, or if something in Washington, DC can work here, or New Orleans. Now some people are asking what’s different between what’s happening here over the next three days as opposed to other conferences or meetings about this issue. First, national movements, which we’re trying to create today, have successes and failures - but you don’t stop moving. You keep pushing. For those naysayers out there, watch us as we keep moving. During the civil rights movement there were failures and successes, but at the end of the day, we got voting rights, we can go to any restaurant we want. In a year or two, if the homicide rate is down because of what we’re doing, we’ll know if we’re successful.”
Another expected outcome of the conference is the creation of a national network of groups and individuals who are already working to end the sub-culture of violence.
Needless to say, the task is a daunting one. It becomes even more so in an era of shrinking government budgets and dwindling available resources for alternatives to continuous incarceration rather than education and rehabilitation of the at-risk population.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between the thirty-five year period of 1976 and 2011, there were 279,384 black murder victims in the United States. Almost all of those murder victims were killed by other African Americans.
To place the national murder statistic of 279,384 Black murder victims in another light, a study conducted by the Tuskegee Institute showed that between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 blacks were lynched by racist whites. Numbers provided by the Veterans Hour, an on-line newspaper for veterans, showed there were 3,075 Black soldiers killed during the Korean War and 7,243 killed during the Vietnam War. Taking those figures in totality there were 13,764 Blacks lynched because of racism or killed in official U.S. military actions.
“If 200 whales beached themselves at Atlantic City, every scientist in the area would be there trying to figure out why. Every year, at least that many young African American males are killed at the hands of other young African American males in our major cities. But there are no sociologists or anthropologists lining up to figure out why,” said City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. “It’s a sad statistic that at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan at its height, more people in Philadelphia have been killed than lynched by the Klan. That’s a sad commentary for our city and our nation. We have to figure out how to turn the tide on this. I’ve been in rooms where architects have said, if a young Black male doesn’t read up to proficiency by the fourth grade, they know how many jail cells to build by the time they’re 18. The solution to the problem is in the problem. If there’s a correlation between literacy and crime then let’s educate, let’s teach kids to read. It costs far less to educate than incarcerate. We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem.”
According to law enforcement experts, Philadelphia’s homicide rate remains among the worst of the top ten cities across the nation. After a 20 percent decline in homicide over the last three years, the numbers are starting to climb again, challenging law enforcement officials, community leaders and legislators to devise effective means of curtailing the violence, much less end it . The numbers illustrate the glaring and frightening reality that a young Black man is safer fighting in Iraq than he is walking around the streets of Philadelphia’s Black neighborhoods.
“This problem is painful for me — not as mayor — but as a resident of this city; to see the damage to families and communities,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists killed 2,977 people. Last year in 13 cities there were 3,005 murders. Because of the terrorist attacks the federal government created the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. The government secures billions of dollars for these agencies in funding and equipment and training. I want to see a comparable response to the violence in our cities. I want people in our cities to be able to walk down the streets without being afraid.”
Weary of the typical slate of political establishment candidates, Meighan Dorr, a 25 year-old who has never held elected office, is running for mayor in an independent write-in campaign.
“The city is in a state of crisis and we need a humanitarian instead of a politician,” said Dorr, a former non-teaching assistant for the School District of Philadelphia. “People are too satisfied with nothing in this city. We’re satisfied with homeless people. We’re satisfied with the lack of housing. We’re satisfied without adequate education funding.”
She faces long odds.
The incumbent, Mayor Michael Nutter, is expected to win overwhelmingly. In addition, Dorr faces two other candidates who have had far more visibility than she has. Karen Brown, running as the Republican opponent to Nutter, has been widely seen and scrutinized. A third candidate, Wali Diop Rahman, has been very visible for months with his independent campaign.
Dorr has pegged her hopes on widespread voter discontent.
“I’m still hoping to win because the Democrats have been running this city for 45 years and they have us living in a city that is practically abandoned,” she said. “People are tired of Democrats and Republicans. People are kind of fed up.”
She decided to run in 2009 after being denied a slot on the city’s Youth Campaign. Initially, she wanted to run as a Democrat in the spring primary. She was kept off the ballot because her petitions were improperly notarized, she said. She switched, becoming an independent and gathered more signatures — 1,650 to be exact — but fell short of the 1,850 needed to garner a place on the ballot.
Undeterred, she set her sights on the general election running as a write-in.
“My experiences, gathering all those signatures, taught me that people are concerned,” she said.
Dorr has ambitious plans to stimulate job growth, tackle illiteracy, provide adequate housing, and turn vacant and abandoned properties into homes and businesses.
Among her ideas, loosening regulations on taxi licensing in an effort to create jobs, giving businesses tax breaks for sponsoring literacy programs for adults and turning vacant and abandoned lots over to non-profits who can put them to productive use.
She’s been hard at work the last few weeks shaking hands and getting the word out.
“I want to prepare a city for [the youth] that they can live in and flourish in,” she said. “We have a lot of resources to turn this city into a wealthy city and all the mayors that we’ve had have never had a plan of action.”
Dorr is a pharmacy technician and full-time student at Community College of Philadelphia, where she majors in cultural science and technology. She is a recipient of the Frank Sullivan Humanitarian Award.
Over howls of protest from the city’s union employees, Mayor Michael Nutter unveiled his $3.6 billion budget Thursday at City Council — a budget that did not include raises for the city’s unionized workers, but did include plans to add more firefighters and police to the city’s roster and a number of improvements to police stations, firehouses, libraries and recreation centers.
It did not include a tax increase.
It is “a plan that tackles the challenges of the present, and makes investments in our future,” Nutter told council members, citing three challenges: public safety, the rising costs of pensions and benefits and proposed cuts in the state budget.
Overall spending rose from $3.5 billion last year, with about $70 million of that increase going to the city’s pension fund, and about $10 million to debt service.
Those figures are central to an ongoing battle between the Nutter administration and the city’s two municipal unions.
Salaries and benefits account for 68 percent of city spending and that share is growing, the mayor said.
“Employee costs have been growing at an unaffordable rate,” Nutter said. “Unless we take action to slow the growth in these costs — particularly pension and health care — these two items will continue to devour our budget.”
“These cost drivers present the most substantial challenge to our city’s financial future,” Over the last 10 years, pension costs have risen from $200 million to more than $550 million.
The Nutter administration has been negotiating with the city’s municipal unions since 2009, but has been unable to reach an accord.
In the most recent round of talks, administration officials have proposed increasing healthcare costs by a percentage based on the city’s increase. The city also proposed a 2.5 percent increase for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. In terms of pension benefits, the city wants to set up a dual pension plan; one for senior employees and another for employees hired after a certain date.
The union has rejected them all — and this week the battle spilled over into the corridors of city hall.
Nutter was soundly booed as he entered the chamber to give his speech. Members of the audience rose as the mayor strode into the room, but Pete Matthews, president of the American Federation State, County and Municipal Employees, District 33, remained seated.
Several hundred union members – most from District 33 – stomped their feet and shouted slogans like “keep your word” as they lined the galleries overlooking council chambers. At several points during Nutter’s speech, they interrupted the mayor with shouts, catcalls, and a chorus of angry boos.
“We put you in office, and you turned your back,” shouted one man. “We had faith in you, but we don’t have faith anymore.”
Council President Darrell Clarke adroitly quieted the hecklers, asking them to respect the “people’s house.”
“I have been a strong supporter of municipal unions,” Clarke said. “But I need you to be respectful in this house.”
An unusual amount of security surrounded the proceedings. Only visitors with passes were admitted to the chamber floor, usually open to everyone, confining the main body of union protestors to the galleries.
After the meeting, Matthews, standing on the steps of the northeast tower, met with union members to voice his outrage.
“He is trying to break you,” thundered Matthews to union members.
Members of the four unions representing non-uniformed employees have been working without a contract since 2009.
Neither Nutter’s budget or his five-year plan included plans for raises.
However, the mayor said in his speech that he was prepared to pay for raises.
“I want to work with the union leadership to figure out how we can give our workers much deserved pay raises,” he said. “But, I cannot sign a contract that does not deal with long-term employee benefit challenges that threaten this city’s future. We’re in his position now because the can has been kicked down the road too many times. Well, I’m not going to kick it any farther.”
The unions seemed to have support in council, though whether that support would extend to council pressing for raises remains to be seen.
Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. introduced a resolution, expected to pass, calling for a “fair contract that represents the significant fiscal support that these two city employee unions have already rendered.”
Goode would not say whether that support extended to budgeting for raises.
“This resolution is in support of a fair contract,” he said. “I think there should be a negotiated contract. The resolution does not deal with raises or benefits specifically.”
Other items in the budget included a $4.1 million proposal to hire 400 new police officers by July 2013. New hires would help the city bolster its complement of officers at 6,500 over the next five years. City officials expect to lose 900 officers through attrition over that period.
The administration also budgeted to hire between 80 and 120 firefighters, hoping that by expanding the department, the city could save about $2 million in overtime.
Another $6.7 million has been earmarked for improvements to six police stations and 11 firehouses, and $9 million for design work to renovate the former Penn Mutual Insurance Co. building at 46th and Market Streets with plans to eventually move police headquarters and the city morgue, along with a public health center to that site.
Nutter hopes to leverage $1.5 million over the next three years for improvements to neighborhood libraries. Ultimately, the administration hopes to leverage those funds with private partnerships to raise a total of $6 million for library improvements.
The budget did include about $2.2 million in cuts: $900,000 in the Office of Information and Technology; $20,000 in the finance department; and $300,000 in the managing director’s office. Also included in that figure was a $1 million savings for the streets department, money spent this year to buy salt for the road that was not needed due to the mild winter.
All 70 of the city’s pools will be open this summer, with full funding from the city; Mayor Michael Nutter announced Monday at the Awbury Recreation Center in Mount Airy.
“Nothing means summer like the opening of our pools,” said the mayor, conspicuous in his suit and tie as he spoke to a group of kids anxiously waiting to leap in the water.
Nutter did not take a plunge into the pool — a Philadelphia tradition started by former Gov. Ed Rendell, but said he had planned to.
“I fully expected to do that today,” he told reporters, adding that because of time constraints he couldn’t. “It takes extra time … I have to comb my hair.”
He was joined by Councilwoman Cindy Bass and Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson and about 40 kids who helped them celebrate by jumping into the pool as Nutter sounded a lifeguard’s whistle, officially marking the start of summer.
This is the first year the city has been able to fully fund pool operations since the financial crisis ravaged the city’s budget just prior to the 2009 pool season. For the last three years the city has asked for donations to raise the money to open the pools through private donations. Even with the budget uncertainty this year the city was able to cover the complete cost this year.
Nutter also took a few seconds to discuss the other summer programs taking place throughout the city.
“No one should be complaining this summer that they are bored and don’t have anything to do,” he said.
Among the most important programs is the Summer Meals Program.
As Nutter spoke, city officials laid out pre-packaged lunches for children visiting the pool. Last year the city served 2.8 million meals to 900,000 children through the program. But, Nutter noted that about 41,000 kids who could have taken part in the program — based on free and reduced lunch data from the school district — failed to do so.
This year meals will be provided between June 18 and Aug. 31, to children up to 18. All the child has to do is show up.
Meals are served at about 1,000 sites across the city at schools, recreation centers, YMCAs, churches, playgrounds, play streets or city parks
On a sterner note, the mayor also reminded the city’s youth that the end of the school year meant more stringent curfew guidelines. Children 13 years old and younger must be off the street by 9 p.m.; youngsters 14 and 15 by 10 p.m. and youth 16 and 17 by 11 p.m.
“We are serious about enforcing the curfew,” Nutter said, adding that police would use their discretion when needed. As an example, the mayor used a teen with a summer job.
“If you have a summer job that keeps you out past curfew you will not automatically be in trouble if you show the officer your ID,” he said.
The city enacted a new curfew last summer after a series of high profile crimes — notably flash mobs in Center City — involving the city’s youth.