Northeast Times

City Council gets an earful from The People

— Coun­cil takes its budget show on the road. At a for­um in Lawndale, folks gripe about L&I, schools, taxes…

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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.” ••

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You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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