What's up with the budget? Council gets an earful in Kensington

Loc­al res­id­ents let coun­cil hear their con­cerns about city fund­ing and oth­er is­sues dur­ing a budget hear­ing held in Kens­ing­ton.

It’s budget sea­son for the Phil­adelphia City Coun­cil, and to ob­tain pub­lic in­put on the budget for the up­com­ing year, mem­bers of coun­cil have been hold­ing meet­ings throughout the city in­ten­ded to let loc­al res­id­ents have a say.

On Tues­day, May 1, mem­bers of city coun­cil held the third neigh­bor­hood budget hear­ing of the year at Kens­ing­ton’s Car­din­al Bevilac­qua Com­munity Cen­ter, on Kens­ing­ton and Le­high av­en­ues.

Coun­cil­mem­bers Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), Kenyatta John­son (D-2nd dist.), Mari­an B. Tasco (D-9th dist.), Bill Green (D-at large), Wil­li­am Green­lee (D-at large), Dav­id Oh (R-at large) and coun­cil pres­id­ent Dar­rell Clarke (D-5th dist.), joined coun­cil­wo­man María D. Quiñones-Sánchez (D-7th dist.) in her dis­trict and opened up the floor for res­id­en­tial com­ment­son the up­com­ing city budget.

They cer­tainly got an ear­ful.

Res­id­ents dis­cussed a wide range of is­sues: dis­ap­point­ment over statewide budget cuts, edu­ca­tion ini­ti­at­ives, a re­turn of fund­ing to the city’s De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation, even the mem­bers of the neigh­bor­hood’s Span­ish-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion vo­cal­ized fears of work­ing with po­lice.

Amy Miller, of the East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation, brought up the fatal fire at the Buck Ho­siery Build­ing April 9 - which took the lives of Lt. Robert Neary and fire­man Daniel Sweeney – and said the city needs to work to clean up va­cant struc­tures in or­der to pre­vent fu­ture ac­ci­dents.

“If we don’t have a well-fun­ded fire de­part­ment, we will be fa­cing a deadly fu­ture,” she told coun­cil­mem­bers, not­ing that she wanted va­cant struc­tures sealed and “put back in­to use and onto the tax rolls.”

Coun­cil­wo­man Quiñones-Sánchez replied that steps are un­der­way to help ease Miller’s con­cerns. In fact on Fri­day, April 27, a bill she called the “steel seal bill” was passed out of com­mit­tee, mean­ing it will be read be­fore full coun­cil and could be­come law.

The bill re­quires that va­cant build­ings throughout the city be sealed with 14-gauge rust proof met­al shield­ing, which is in­ten­ded to keep people out.

“It was not a re­sponse to the fire,” the coun­cil­wo­man said. “It’s something we’ve been work­ing on.”

A hot top­ic of the meet­ing was the $8 mil­lion in fund­ing that was sup­posed to be de­livered to the city’s De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation after a park­ing tax in­crease in 2008.

The funds were nev­er de­livered, and at least four of those who test­i­fied last week asked to see the funds re­turned.

In fact, May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s one-time idea to tax sug­ary bever­ages was tossed around by res­id­ents as a way to re­turn funds to the de­part­ment.

However, Clarke said that might not hap­pen as the funds were placed in the city’s gen­er­al fund when the two sep­ar­ate Parks and Re­cre­ation de­part­ments merged.

“I don’t know, as we move ahead, if we will be able to put that money back,” said the coun­cil pres­id­ent, not­ing that the down­turn in the na­tion­al eco­nomy had im­pacted the city’s abil­ity to put funds in­to the De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation.

In­stead, he noted that loc­als should look to parks like Het­zell’s Play­ground at Columbia and Thompson streets in Fishtown, which has partnered with area busi­nesses to raise fund­ing in or­der to im­prove the field, as a way oth­er parks could raise fund­ing.

In per­haps the most chilling testi­mony of the even­ing, Span­ish-speak­ing rep­res­ent­at­ives of area busi­ness as­so­ci­ations spoke out against the fed­er­al of­fice of the U.S. Im­mig­ra­tions and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE), be­cause too of­ten, they claimed, the ICE de­ports vic­tims who re­port crimes.

It’s a prob­lem that Miguel Mar­tinez, pres­id­ent of the Domin­ic­an Mer­chants As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ica – which, he said, rep­res­ents over 3,000 busi­nesses throughout the re­gion – keeps vic­tims of crimes from re­port­ing the in­cid­ents to po­lice due to fears of be­ing de­por­ted.

“There has been a lack of se­cur­ity in the past sev­er­al months…mem­bers (of the Domin­ic­an Mer­chants As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ica) have been as­sas­sin­ated or have been vic­tims of crime,” he told coun­cil­mem­bers, through the help of a trans­lat­or. “I ask for bet­ter se­cur­ity throughout the neigh­bor­hood.”

An­oth­er wo­man, who also spoke in Span­ish, asked coun­cil about the cost that de­port­a­tions – and that of the cost of care for orphans that de­port­a­tion can cre­ate when par­ents are sent out of the coun­try and their Amer­ic­an born chil­dren re­main be­hind – put on the city’s budget.

Coun­cil­wo­man Quiñones-Sánchez answered these con­cerns twice – once in Eng­lish and once in Span­ish – say­ing that her of­fice is cur­rently work­ing with law en­force­ment agen­cies to find out how of­ten de­port­a­tions oc­cur to il­leg­al im­mig­rants who have been vic­tims of crimes – in­stead of only those who might have com­mit­ted a crime - and just why the de­port­a­tions oc­cur.

She said that de­port­a­tions should only oc­cur in the case of a “ma­jor crime.”

She said that, in many cases, res­id­ents of­ten feel that they are vic­tim­ized twice, once if they have vic­tims of a crime, and again if they re­port it to po­lice, as some­times an im­mig­ra­tions of­ficer is wait­ing to de­port the vic­tim when they come to give in­form­a­tion at the po­lice sta­tion.

“Vic­tims have been de­por­ted, with the way the data [that her of­fice is work­ing to ob­tain from law en­force­ment of­fi­cials] has been saved,” she said. “It’s sup­posed to look for un­doc­u­mented crim­in­als, but, be­cause of these prob­lems, un­doc­u­mented in­di­vidu­als will not re­port crimes.”

Due to this, she said, there is no telling just how many crimes have gone un­re­por­ted throughout the Span­ish-speak­ing pop­u­la­tion in Kens­ing­ton.

City Coun­cil will need to fi­nal­ize the budget by the end of June.

Star Staff Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be con­tac­ted at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com.


You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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