That one word sums up what neighborhood residents want from the city.
Specifically, about two dozen people told City Council members holding a budget hearing at St. Williams R.C. Church last week that they want more spending for Licenses & Inspections enforcement, more money for the Fire Department, more dollars for neighborhood health centers, stronger controls on school district spending, pay hikes for city workers and longer library hours.
Members of Council’s Committee of the Whole have been conducting budget hearings within councilmanic districts. On May 8, the traveling sessions stopped off at St. William’s in Lawndale, part of Marian Tasco’s 9th district.
“The biggest issues are L&I issues,” said Bill Dolbow, Democratic leader of the 35th Ward. They’re quality-of-life issues, he said.
He complained that illegal or unpermitted work that is spotted on weekends can’t be reported immediately because L&I inspectors don’t have weekend hours.
“There’s nobody you can call on Saturday,” said Dolbow, who also is president of the Lawncrest Civic Association. Other speakers made the same complaint.
Phil Grutzmacher, the association’s secretary, echoed Dolbow’s remarks.
He told Council members that local civic associations serve as intelligence-gathering operations for the city on zoning matters, but they see their efforts stymied when there is no follow-through from L&I. Neighborhood groups can win cases involving illegal property uses, but the victories are hollow because abuses continue unabated, he said.
“L&I needs adequate resources for enforcement,” Grutzmacher said.
In a phone interview May 9, Tasco said L&I is one of the city’s top departments and that she frequently hears enforcement complaints, especially about problems that occur on weekends.
In particular, vendors who don’t have permits start operating on weekends, but there are no L&I inspectors working. There used to be a weekend detail, she said.
“We need more inspectors,” she said.
During the Council hearing, Bustleton resident Myles Gordon suggested a citizens committee to oversee the school district’s budget so that spending could be better controlled.
“How do we get a $600 million budget deficit in the school district?” he asked.
Sue Rosenthal, chairwoman of Health Center 10’s community board, told City Council members the Northeast needs another health center. She said there are 60,000 people in the Northeast who have no health care and that Center 10, the Judge Edward B. Rosenberg Health Center on Cottman Avenue, is the busiest of the city clinics.
The Fire Department’s money-saving “brownout” strategy in which some firehouses are temporarily closed is unsafe for citizens — and firefighters, said Therese Garvin, whose husband is a firefighter.
“Brownouts are unsafe,” she said. “Saying they’re not insults my intelligence.”
Garvin said she constantly fears hearing the worst news a firefighter’s spouse could hear and pleaded with Council members to “do whatever you can to make sure my husband comes home to me.”
Union leader Cathy Scott suggested the city could get some money from non-profit organizations, which don’t pay taxes. Scott, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District 47, which represents city white-collar workers, also said Philadelphia could save money by spending less on outside consultants who don’t know as much as the city’s own employees do.
She said city departments are understaffed, employees are underpaid and that Mayor Michael Nutter thinks more of rebuilding LOVE Park in Center City than he does of getting better pay for city workers who haven’t received raises in years.
Privatizing government jobs would be more costly, said John Krol, a 19-year employee of the school district maintenance staff. He said he and his co-workers have been issued layoff notices, and said Council members should move to protect their jobs instead of letting them be outsourced. Krol also criticized charter schools as “for-profit” entities that drain school resources.
Responding to one speaker’s request for more Parks and Recreation spending, Council President Darrell Clarke said Council cannot guarantee Nutter will actually use funds they have allocated. The City Charter gives the mayor the option.
“Council can put the money into a department’s budget,” he said. “But there is no way to force the mayor to spend it.”
William Conaway, director of community relations at the Philadelphia Protestant Home, echoed earlier comments about the need for weekend L&I enforcement. He suggested more recreation services, a mini-City Hall in Lawndale/Crescentville and more library hours.
He also said changing Rising Sun Avenue’s trash day from Monday to Tuesday would help the appearance of the neighborhood because business owners wouldn’t be putting their trash out on Saturdays as some now do.
Phyllis Swing, aide to state Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202nd dist.), also pushed for more L&I inspections. City neighborhoods are decaying, she said, because the city code is not enforced. L&I needs more funds, more staff and more enforcement, she added. Swing also said more money is needed for parks and recreation.
Tasco, on May 9, said residents were speaking from the heart.
“They know what they need,” she said.
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez (D-7th dist.), in a May 9 e-mail to the Northeast Times, said she thought the hearing had a good turnout but she had expected more to be said on Nutter’s plan to revalue real estate.
But Council members did hear about it.
Brett Mandel, a former city controller candidate, said Mayor Nutter’s Actual Values Initiative, which would allow the city to base its real estate tax rates on actual market prices, would put taxes ahead of real values. He also said the city should work harder to collect more than $400 million in back taxes it is owed before doing anything that would hike what residents would pay in property taxes.
The Nutter administration has said the new valuation system would bring in an additional $90 million, but that it isn’t a tax increase.
Tasco — who “retired” for one day in January then collected $478,057 in DROP money before returning to her job and her full salary — said, she too, believes collection of delinquent taxes should be stepped up, but added a lot of what is owed is uncollectible. Still, she said May 9, if city officials are soft on back taxes, delinquents “will take advantage of us.” ••EndFragment