Mayor Nutter finally gives budget address after union workers drown out his speech
Mayor Nutter proposed setting the city's property tax rate at 1.32 percent, higher than the 1.25 percent rate that had been speculated. He also included a $15,000 homestead exemption for those who live in their properties. The mayor tried to deliver his annual budget address in City Council chambers, but protesters shouting and whistling in the balcony drowned him out. He retired to his large conference room to read the budget address.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter today proposed a $3.75 billion budget for 2014 and proposed setting the city's property tax rate at 1.32 percent, which is higher than the 1.25 percent that had been speculated.
He said there would be no tax increases and no cuts in services.
Property tax owners would multiply the tax rate by their new property assessments to figure their 2014 tax bills. A property assessed at $100,000 would have a property tax bill of $1,320.
But the City Council has to vote on the budget and could set a different tax rate.
The mayor's budget proposal includes a $15,000 Homestead Exemption for people who live in their homes. He also set aside $30 million in other property tax relief for residents.
The mayor proposed a spending increase of $99 million compared to this year's budget. The new spending would include $69 million set aside to pay pension costs for city employees and salaries for police. Among the city's four major municipal employee unions, only the police have a contract. Three other city unions -- AFSCME District Councils 33 and 47 and Firefighters Local 22 -- are working under expired contracts.
Nutter projects that property taxes will generate about $1.2 billion in revenue, with 54 percent directed to the city's school district. Those figures would be the same as this year. The school district's portion of property tax revenue is separate from the city's fiscal budget and is not part of Nutter's $3.75 billon spending plan for 2014.
The current property tax rate is 9.71 percent, but under the mayor's Actual Value Initiative, properties were reassessed at market values, not at the partial values under the old system. The new tax rate will be set lower to generate the same amount of revenue.
The mayor tried to deliver his annual budget address this morning in City Council chambers but was drowned out by protesters in the balcony who whistled and chanted loudly. Firefighters and AFSCME members were among those joining the protest. The firefighters are upset over the mayor's decision to appeal an arbitrator's contract award to city firefighters.
Council went into recess, and Nutter retired to his large conference room, where administration officials and employees greeted him with a standing ovation before he delivered the budget speech.
He said he had put $26 million aside from the city's general fund to pay "future labor obligations" for city workers represented by AFSCME, the firefighters and deputy sheriffs.
In city council, members approved unanimously a resolution introduced by Councilman David Oh that called upon the Nutter Administration to pay $66 million in additional wages, pension benefits and health care benefits to firefighters, who have been working under the terms of an expired contract since 2009. Firefighters were awarded a new contract in 2010 through binding arbitration, but the Nutter Administration has appealed the contract repeatedly and not honored the terms of the award. Oh referred to the $66 million as "past due" to firefighters.
Further, Oh's resolution called upon the administration to set aside additional funding in case the sides reach a contract resolution and added costs to the city exceed $66 million.
The money could come from what Oh said is a $114 million surplus in the general fund.
In unrelated business, council passed a bill requiring all private employers in the city to award sick time to employees at a rate of one hour leave for every 40 hours worked. Councilman Bill Greenlee was the primary sponsor. Council passed the same measure last year, but Nutter vetoed it. This time, the bill passed by an 11-6 margin, one affirmative vote short of a potential veto override. Nutter refused to say if he planned another veto.
Nutter, in his budget address, also highlighted spending on city services in fiscal 2014 and beyond, including $5 million over two years to "modernize" Free Library branches. He expects that private-sector contributors will match the city's investment. In 2014, Nutter plans to spend $1 million to expand the operating hours of branch libraries, specifically to benefit young people, job seekers and senior citizens.
The mayor also intends to spend more than $600,000 in 2014 to make computers and computer classes more available to Philadelphians, and to invest an additional $1 million in the Community College of Philadelphia to help offset rising tuition costs. ••
On the web
To view video footage of the union protests in City Council chambers and of Mayor Nutter's return to his own reception room, visit the Northeast Times YouTube site, www.youtube.com/user/northeasttimes