In a win-win for his administration, Mayor Michael Nutter announced last Thursday that the city had reached an agreement with efficient energy conglomerate Ecosave, Inc., to become the American headquarters for the company.
The company will set up its operation in the Navy Yard, with the promise of bringing at least 150 jobs.
It’s seen as a dual win for the city as this move at once continues Nutter’s efforts of greening the city – this time by having a company specializing in renewable energy located here – and that it will provide jobs that will add to the city’s tax base.
“We are delighted to welcome Ecosave to Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “Increasingly, companies from around the world are choosing to start, stay and grow in Philadelphia as we offer a competitive business climate, unrivaled quality of life and world class leadership in sectors such as energy efficiency.”
The Australia-based Ecosave is one of the world’s leading suppliers of energy efficient services, and aside from Philadelphia serving as Ecosave’s North American headquarters, the energy company also has satellite offices in Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland.
Ecosave purchased in 2013 a Bristol, PA-based energy efficiency firm, and will move into the Navy Yard this month. Ecosave’s move to the Navy Yard represents a $10 million investment by the company.
“Ecosave is Australia’s largest independent Energy Services Company, offering free energy and water savings assessments, guaranteed savings, fixed fee proposals and funding solutions. Ecosave has delivered savings to more than 3,000 sites in Australia and internationally since 2002,” read a portion of the company’s fact sheet. “At a glance, [Ecosave] reduces energy and water bills, protect against price rises, invests in cash flow positive facility upgrades, saves on maintenance costs, offers visibility and control over consumption and costs and reduces risk with savings and implementation guarantees.”
“The City’s Commerce Department, with partners such as PIDC, Select, and the State, is working hard each and every day to bring new companies and jobs to Philadelphia,” said Alan Greenberger, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. “We are fixing the fundamentals by lowering taxes and making it easier to do business in Philadelphia, supporting small businesses and high-growth startups and aggressively making the case that Philadelphia is the place to be if you want to access world class talent and grow your company. We’re excited that Ecosave is the latest company to respond and set up in Philadelphia.”
Marcelo Rouco founded Ecosave in 2002, and said the selection of Philadelphia is the culmination of a painstaking and methodical search.
“Ecosave carried out a two-year search, considering six potential cities in the northeastern United States to select the best city in which to base our North American head office,” Rouco said. “The two key factors in our decision were being among thought leadership in green buildings at the Energy Efficiency Buildings Hub in the Navy Yard, and the welcoming we received from the local commercial community that it much easier for a new entrant into the market to do business here.”
Nutter said Ecosave worked in conjunction with the Administration, Select Greater Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to make Ecosave’s move to the Navy Yard a reality.
That multi-pronged effort paid off.
“We are thrilled that Ecosave has chosen Philadelphia and the Navy yard for its North American headquarters,” said PIDC President John Grady. “As a national hub for energy efficiency research and commercialization, the Navy Yard’s Smart Energy Campus is an ideal location for Ecosave to launch into North America.
“Ecosave’s new headquarters at the Navy Yard will add to the dynamic mix of more than 10,000 employees and 130 companies already located at this sustainable and innovative business campus.”
Officials with Select Greater Philadelphia concurred, noting both the effort involved in bringing Ecosave to Philadelphia and the impact such a move will have on Philadelphia’s growing green-business reputation.
“Select Greater Philadelphia was pleased to collaborate with its economic development partners, including the [administration of Gov. Tom Corbett], the City of Philadelphia, PIDC and other business leaders, to make the case for Philadelphia as a premier business destination,” said Select Greater Philadelphia CEO and President Tom Morr. “We welcome Ecosave to the region. Their decision strengthens an already thriving energy efficiency sector in greater Philadelphia.”
Veteran State Rep. Nicholas Micozzie, R-Del., after more than a half-century of political service, has announced his retirement, effective at the end of the current legislation session.
Micozzie, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, leaves after the completion and passage of House Bill 1060, the $2.4 billion transportation bill that created an infusion of crucial funds necessary to fix the state’s crumbling highway infrastructure and allow SEPTA to proceed with several capital improvement projects.
“In the lyrics of Kenny Rogers’ song ‘The Gambler,’ he sings, ‘You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.’ My friends, it is time for me to fold ‘em, to walk away, and to know when it is time not to run,” Micozzie said via a statement released by his office. “After 19 years of public service as an Upper Darby councilman and 36 years as a state representative, I have decided to retire at the end of my current legislative term. It is time to spend more time here at home with my wife, June, and my family, and end the two- or three-times- a-week trip back and forth to Harrisburg, sleeping in hotels.
“During my tenure as a state legislator, I believe I have led a career that I can look back upon with pride,” Micozzie continued. “One of my greatest accomplishments is as the majority chairman of the House Transportation Committee, where I was able to provide leadership in enacting a comprehensive dedicated transportation funding bill that finally addresses the state’s aging and deteriorating transportation infrastructure.”
Micozzie said the bill went before the committee three times before it was finally passed, and at the time, Micozzie spoke of the sobering reality of life without the funding included in the bill.
“To do nothing would cost a lot in the future. You’ve heard about the scenarios and what SEPTA would have to do [discontinuing several regional and suburban lines], and some of these bridges throughout” the state would be in further disrepair, Micozzie said last fall. “The other thing is, [there have been promises from PennDOT] to limit weights on some bridges and shut down other bridges. It’s a menu for disaster.
“And there have been three or four studies that put the costs right now at $3 billion to repair the [highway/bridge system], and if we do nothing, in two years it will cost $5 billion, and two years after that, it will cost $7 billion.”
Gov. Tom Corbett signed the transportation bill last November.
“I signed a truly bipartisan bill that will keep our families safe, create good paying jobs and keep Pennsylvania moving,” Corbett after signing HB 1060 into law. “Our elected officials put partisanship aside and, unlike Washington, we proved that by working together we can deliver and bring the quality transportation system that Pennsylvanians expect and deserve. Smoother roads, safer bridges, reliable transit systems and efficient ports are what this bill delivers.”
But that multifaceted transportation bill is just one of the recent legislative triumphs of which Micozzie is proud.
“Other accomplishments of which I am proud occurred during my tenure as chairman of the House Insurance Committee. They included reforming the Catastrophic Medical Liability Insurance Fund to reduce the insurance premiums for doctors and hospitals; creating Medical Saving Accounts to help lower health insurance costs; ensuring free testing strips for diabetics; providing a mandatory 48-hour hospital maternity stay for mothers of newborn babies; passing the Towing Standards Act; crafting the MCare Act, which instituted a number of market reforms in the midst of the medical malpractice insurance crisis; and extending the Children’s Health Insurance Program funding and eliminating the waiting list. I also was pleased to be able to garner $2.7 million to save the arts, music, library and physical education programs along with 50 jobs at the Upper Darby High School.
“Through the years, my office has been able to obtain millions in state dollars for the purchase and renovation of the Lansdowne Theater and the 20 Century Club Building, as well as funding to purchase the properties for the redevelopment of Clifton Heights along Springfield Road and Baltimore Pike,” Micozzie continued. “Having the opportunity to help improve our local communities has been very rewarding.”
Last week City Council members James Kenney and Bill Green introduced bills that would eliminate the arrest requirement for marijuana possession and list electronic cigarettes in the same category as regular cigarettes for lawmaking purposes, respectively.
Kenney contends his bill would cut down on the thousands of police man-hours used on processing marijuana arrests. Specifically, Kenney’s bill will allow officers the option of not taking a person into custody for a personal-use amount of marijuana; instead, that person would be issued a summons to appear before and enter into the District Attorney’s “Small Amount of Marijuana” program.
That program consists of a 3-hour drug abuse class and fine of $200.
“Our police are already stretched thin. By eliminating the mandatory requirement that police must arrest and process any individual caught with any amount of marijuana, we can free up an estimated 17,000 police hours each year to fight violent crime. That’s over 2,100 8-hour shifts, a tremendous law enforcement resource that the Commissioner could better utilize,” Kenney said. “[This legislation is] a smart and reasonable measure that recognizes the need to prioritize our limited police resources.”
Kenney’s bill follows a regional trend and seems to be in step with efforts to also legalize medical marijuana. In recent published reports, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, D-N.Y., has stated that he would issue an executive order regarding medical marijuana use, while Gov. Corbett has recently stated that he would follow FDA guidance on the issue.
Kenney also referenced the racial inequality in marijuana arrests, noting that 82 percent of the arrest were African Americans. Instead, Kenney argued that preventative and corrective programs are needed in lieu of arrests.
“There is a real consequence to these arrests. People are hand-cuffed, brought to jail, fingerprinted and processed for what most will agree is a relatively minor offense,” Kenney said. “When arrests are made, the unexpected can happen, especially when dealing with juveniles. We should try to avoid those situations as much as possible and this legislation will help in that regard.”
Meanwhile, Green’s bill would include e-cigarettes in the Clean Indoor Air Worker Protection law, and would classify consumption of e-cigarettes under Section 10-602 of the Philadelphia City Code by defining their use as “smoking” and prohibiting their use in “any Enclosed Area to which the general public is invited or in which the general public is routinely permitted.” Under the legislation proposed, the use of e-cigarettes would be subject to the same restrictions as the use of normal cigarettes.
Private clubs and drinking establishments will be allowed to apply for a waiver.
Green, vice-chair of the technology and information services committee, said the real damage lies in the influence e-cigarettes are having on the young, and how images of people pulling on the blue-light emitting devices is seen as a trendy and chic thing among the youth.
“We’ve seen an alarming increase in the number of children who are using e-cigarettes, and one in five kids certainly aren’t using e-cigs to quit smoking because they’ve never smoked before,” Councilman Green said. “An important outcome of this legislation is the affirmation of a tobacco-free lifestyle, since the use of e-cigs in public places erodes decades of critical work focused on decreasing tobacco consumption. Smoking is definitely not something we want to become ‘cool’ again.”
Green’s bill is similar to Senate Bill 1055, introduced late last year by State Sen. Timothy J. Solobay, D-46th, which outlaws the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
“Over the past few years, alternative nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes have hit the market with growing popularity. While electronic cigarettes do not produce traditional smoke, they still contain nicotine. My legislation would amend Title 18 to include alternative nicotine products within the restrictions that currently apply to the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors,” Solobay said of SB 1055, which is now on second consideration. “With the long-term effects of tobacco-free products still being studied, I think it’s important that we are proactive and update our laws to ensure that these new cigarettes stay out of the hands of our youth.”
Green, along with bill co-sponsor Councilman Bill Greenlee, referred to a recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which showed an increasing number of adults trying e-cigarettes in recent years.
“In 2011, about 21 percent of adults who smoke traditional cigarettes had used electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, up from about 10 percent in 2010, according to a study released today by the CDC. Overall, about six percent of all adults have tried e-cigarettes, with estimates nearly doubling from 2010. This study is the first to report changes in awareness and use of e-cigarettes between 2010 and 2011,” read a portion of the study’s summary. “During 2010–2011, adults who have used e-cigarettes increased among both sexes, non-Hispanic Whites, those aged 45–54 years, those living in the South, and current and former smokers and current and former smokers. In both 2010 and 2011, e-cigarette use was significantly higher among current smokers compared to both former and never smokers. Awareness of e-cigarettes rose from about four in 10 adults in 2010 to six in 10 adults in 2011.”
“E-cigarette use is growing rapidly,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “There is still a lot we don’t know about these products, including whether they will decrease or increase use of traditional cigarettes.”
Greenlee agrees, noting that extensive studies on the product still need to be conducted, and that until those tests are completed, laws should be enacted to protect non-smokers.
“There is a lack of Federal oversight of e-cigarettes and the potential damaging effect it has on smokers and non-smokers,” Greenlee said. “Until the FDA is able to regulate this product we must safeguard our citizens and especially our youth by regulating these e-cigs as we do normal cigarettes.”
With a precious few days available, State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, D-181st, is urging homeowners to take advantage of property tax relief measures before the Feb. 17 deadline.
Thomas’ announcement comes as both chambers of the General Assembly has either introduced or passed several homeowner-relief bills.
LOOP – the Longtime Owner Occupants Progam – enacted through PA Act 106 of 2103, is designed to provide deferrals and exemptions for longtime owners and occupants who have seen their property taxes rise. Eligible applicants must have lived in their property from at least July 1 of last year, and if approved, applicants will see their property taxes reduced for a period of 10 years.
The city has developed a LOOP website — http://www.phila.gov/loop/Pages/default.aspx — which contains the pertinent information, requirements, phone contacts and downloadable and printable applications. But general requirements stipulate the home is either a single family or a multi-unit property with no more than three residential units and one commercial unit; the property has not received a tax abatement and the real estate taxes on the property must be paid in full or the deed holder must be up-to-date on a payment plan or have an application for a payment agreement pending.
According to Thomas, Act 106 is part of a bigger package of relief bills that include PA Act 94 of 2013 – which allows Philadelphia homeowners to pay real estate taxes in installments — and PA Act 93 of 2013, which authorizes the city to transfer the real estate tax liability of owners of blighted properties to properties they own throughout the city. This will allow the city to more easily obtain delinquent real estate taxes without taking the additional step of obtaining a civil court order.
“These new laws take the burden off of longtime and low-income homeowners in neighborhoods in North Philadelphia and other parts of the city that are being gentrified. It’s not fair that seniors and other longtime residents risk losing their homes through no fault of their own because of rising property taxes,” Thomas said. “As a result of these new laws, they can now get some relief. It’s also great that the city can move against owners of blighted properties without having to go through legal red tape to get the taxes owed by negligent property owners.”
While Thomas is busy in the General Assembly’s lower chamber, the state Senate has also worked on bills that would increase homeowner relief measures.
State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Phila., who sits on both the appropriations and judiciary committees, said House Bill 1644, recently passed the full Senate by a unanimous vote and will return owner-occupied assessments to pre-Actual Value Initiative (AVI) levels once it’s signed into law.
AVI is the new property assessment formula unveiled last year by Mayor Michael Nutter and in effect for the 2014 real estate tax term. While it was crafted to determine the market value of residences, it has also led to many owners seeing their property taxes rise exponentially.
“Last year I worked hard to pass legislation that reduced assessments for owner occupied properties by 50 percent,” said Farnese. “But then came AVI, and the entire reduction was removed because the city changed its tax formula. I’m happy to say that the residents of Philadelphia’s Center City District, and other Business Improvement Districts, can once again receive a 50 percent discount in their assessment because we’ve passed House Bill 1644.”
State Rep. John Taylor, D-177th, authored HB 1644, which became Act 128, and sought to reduce the impact of AVI shortly after the formula was announced.
“This proposed change to the Municipality Authorities Act enables business improvement districts, such as the Center City District in Philadelphia, that have elected to assess residential owner properties at 50 percent of their value, to further lessen the burden of business improvement districts’ assessments on residential owner occupants. In the case of the Center City District, this will permit an adjustment for the impact of the City of Philadelphia’s Actual Value Initiative,” Taylor wrote in a memo. “House Bill 1582 enabled the Center City District to reduce by 50 percent the CCD assessments on residential owner occupants within the business improvement district. In the fall of 2012, property owners approved, City Council reauthorized the CCD and CCD billed for 2013 under the new procedures, effectively reducing residential owner-occupants’ share of the CCD’s budget from 10 percent to 5 percent. However, the shift in value from commercial properties to residential properties that resulted from the City of Philadelphia’s AVI program will cause the residents’ share to move back to 10 percent in 2014, if no further action is taken.
“My legislation will enable the CCD to calculate its assessments on residential owner-occupants using the same 50 percent formula authorized by the prior amendment, but capped so the aggregate value of assessments on owner-occupants will not exceed 5 percent of the CCD’s annual assessments in any year, effectively restoring the balance between commercial and residential owners’ share of District costs.”
In what proved to be a contentious first city council session of the year, council passed the hotly contested law regarding Registered Community Organizations — RCOs. Council also passed bills that require background checks for the private sale of long guns, and leasing various transit-related properties to SEPTA.
But the RCO bill dominated proceedings. The bill passed by a vote of 13-3, with council members W. Wilson Goode Jr., Jannie Blackwell and Blondell Reynolds Brown abstaining. While Blackwell delivered an impassioned plea — noting that “the minority will have their say, while the majority will have their way,” said she had several problems with the bill that Blackwell believes will limit the voice of community members and groups in the face of out-of-town development seen as taking over a number of neighborhoods, including Mantua, which lies in Blackwell’s district. Council members Kenyatta Johnson, Curtis Jones and Maria Quinones-Sanchez — each of whom represents districts affected in varying degrees by gentrification and the new real estate taxation formula AVI — voted in favor of the bill.
In a letter Blackwell sent to Council President Darrell Clarke and circulated to council peers, Blackwell “requested clarification” on a number of issues pertaining to Bill No. 130657.
“We are requesting clarification regarding several parts of Bill No. 130657. [Those concerns are] a possible civil rights violation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964/Fair Housing Act, or Civil Rights Act of 1968, [if] registration rules for RCOs are not applied equally, and if the boundaries for RCOs are not applied equally,” read a portion of Blackwell’s letter. “[We also request clarification on] the selection of coordinating RCOs, the notification of RCOs within applicant’s development area and the Philadelphia Planning Commission’s right to amend the law without council approval.”
While the RCO bill passed over the objections of a rambunctious gallery, the other bills passed with little fanfare. Councilman Johnson authored Bill No. 130960, a resolution requesting the Pennsylvania General Assembly to approve House Bill 1010, which would require background checks for the private sale of long guns.
“Under federal law, an individual must undergo a background check when purchasing a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer, but not when purchasing a gun from a private seller; and under Pennsylvania law, an individual must undergo a background check when purchasing a handgun from a private seller, but current law does not require a background check for individuals purchasing long guns, including rifles, shotguns, and assault rifles, from private sellers; and House Bill 1010 would eliminate the background check exemption for purchasers of long guns from private gun sellers, therefore requiring almost every gun purchase to include a background check,” read a portion of Johnson’s bill. “Background checks serve as one safeguard preventing felons, domestic abusers and individuals with severe mental illness from purchasing firearms. According to CeaseFirePA, in 2012, nine thousand prohibited purchases were prevented by the Pennsylvania background check system, two million prohibited purchases have been stopped nationwide since 1998, and ten other states in the United States mandate background checks for individuals purchasing handguns and long guns from private sellers.
“And according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, at least 50 percent of the homicides committed against Pennsylvania law enforcement officers involve long guns, and, nationally, long guns were used to commit at least 3,918 homicides over the last five years for which data is available … it is crucial that the Pennsylvania General Assembly pass House Bill 1010 so that it can take steps to ensure that prohibited individuals are prevented from purchasing rifles, shotguns and assault rifles in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Brown also introduced a bill that would that seeks stronger regulations for daycares and childcare centers.
Brown’s bill requires such centers to obtain annual certifications from the Department of Licenses and Inspections, along with food and occupancy licenses. According to Brown, centers currently need only to pass an initial fire safety inspection to open for business.
“The bottom line is that every center should be inspected for everything, every year,” Brown said. “What we are hearing through our research is that following the initial fire inspection, the process is largely reactive, only performing inspections after a complaint has been logged. Where the health and safety of young children are involved, investigating a problem on the back end, after a scary incident has occurred is not acceptable.
“When parents select a childcare center that has been given a license by the city, there is the assumption that the center is in compliance in all areas of operation. We need to unsure to the best of our ability that the license means something.”