What’s On City Council’s Plate in Fall 2016?

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c10 Council Members Share Their Thoughts

by Tony West

On the heels of a busy spring 2016 City Council session, which saw passage of a transformative Sweetened Drinks Tax along with the 2016-17, Philadelphia’s legislature started its fall session on Sept. 7. A month into the session, there is a lot on its plate.

All Council Members were asked to name their legislative priorities for the rest of the calendar year. Ten responded, in writing or in interviews, to the following questions: “What are the top three issues facing City Council this fall, in your opinion? Why does each matter? What legislative challenges are involved with them?”

jannie-blackwellJannie Blackwell, 3rd Dist.

While this may not be official council business, bear in mind the upcoming November election is the first thing on all elected officials’ minds at this time!

The Philadelphia Parking Authority is a big issue now. It’s a state agency, but we Philadelphians have to take a hard look at it because it serves us – and because parking and traffic generally have become a major problem in many communities, like University City in my district.

On education, whose committee I chair, we must have hearings on charter schools and on vocational education. People have been talking about vocation education in general for a long time but have not gotten specific.

We have at West Philadelphia HS a prize-winning auto school and other top-quality vocational programs. We want to make it so that students across the whole city know about them. We are engaged in talks with the Philadelphia School Partnership.

As for Kenney’s pre-school programs, those on the inside think it’s going to work.

We’ve been working real hard with Jerry Sweeney at Brandywine Realty Trust on his $3.9-million project. We upped minority inclusion to 40%.

allan-dombAllan Domb, at Large

First, collecting taxes. With Mayor Kenney and Council President Clarke, we held a press conference in July to announce the issuance of a Request for Proposal to collect approximately $500 million in delinquent Real Estate Tax payments. An independent study demonstrated that if Philadelphia were to implement the New York City collection method we could stand to receive $90-120 million initially and $25-40 million annually thereafter, in addition to the money already being collected.

Mayor Kenney and his administration – notably Jim Engler, Rob Dubow and Frank Breslin – have been very supportive and are working on a plan of attack for every delinquent tax category, with a different strategy for each one. On the last day of Council’s first session, we passed a bill to require any individual or business seeking a permit or license from the City to be current on all taxes.

Efficiencies in government: Correcting the assessment of commercial real-estate values could yield $75 million additional revenue. At present, commercial real estate, mainly in Center City, is significantly under-assessed. External commercial appraisers with considerable resources are being sought to assist our current agency so that we can ensure we are accurately capturing all revenue owed to the city.

We should use these proceeds to pay down the unfunded pension liability and boost our fund balance. We must show we are serious in dealing with $5.9 billion pension problem. We need a healthy city to attract people and businesses.

derek-greenDerek Green, at Large

One of the first items on our agenda is Part 2 of the soda tax: looking at the implementation of the Rebuild initiative as well as pre-K, on which issues the Mayor campaigned. We must see how these initiatives can provide economic-development opportunities for small businesses, especially those of color.

Any time you have a major initiative, like the Convention Center, the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative or a stadium, the challenge is how to use them to grow small businesses. You don’t want to be only growing large entities to make them larger. But in Atlanta, former Mayor Maynard Jackson was able to grow small businesses through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. This way, we can start to tackle the number-one issue in the city, which is poverty.

We are starting to prepare for the budget for next year. Some issues are looking at the pension-funding shortfall. The Mayor is looking at collective-bargaining agreements. How that discussion evolves is a collaborative issue. The challenge with the pension is we have such a large deficit there can be no quick fix quick fix. It’s going to take time to find additional resources in a way that won’t degrade other programs.

We’ll get a breather on education this year. And we had a great year in public perception of Philadelphia, with all the tourism initiatives. But we must keep up the momentum.

citycouncilBill Greenlee, at Large

In the first week, President Clarke established a Committee of the Whole on fiscal stability. We had a hearing on continuing study of financial situation. Bonds and taxes are in the forefront. Don’t wait until “budget season” to confront the issues, don’t wait till March – that’s what the President thinks.

Education is always there. We had good news coming out of the School District; they’re in a little better shape. But in a couple of years they’ll be in trouble again

We must work with the Mayor on community schools, fixing the rec centers, etc. It was sort of surprising to us that the beverage industry took as long as it did to file its lawsuit against the soda tax which will fund them. But the City is still full speed ahead on these projects.

bobby-henonBobby Henon, 6th Dist.

Procurement is number one: trying to streamline our process and become more diverse and efficient. It’s going to be a focus coming up in the fall. We want online resources to be available for professional and other procurement services. We are refocused on engaging more groups in the nonprofits and the various chambers of commerce to bid on city business.
Handling diversity better should improve efficiency as well. It will get more people in the pool. We will help applicants partner with other city suppliers.

Our contractors will also get a “more-aggressive pay scale” – that’s shop talk for prompter pay. City vendors often complain about lagging payments, which are a particular concern for small businesses and new entrants.

On criminal-justice reform, we have special committee chaired by Councilman Jones. We want to reduce recidivism and population in the criminal-justice system. Hopefully we can work to close down the House of Corrections someday.

Tax delinquencies are another big problem. The Mayor has announced with Councilman Domb some intensive strategies to attack them. I want to applaud both for staying on top of this issue. Tax-lien sales have been proven to work and we should go ahead with them.

curtis-jonesCurtis Jones, Jr., 4th Dist.

On the Justice Reform Committee, we need to make corresponding legislation and establish budget priorities.

Economic development is another key field of action. We must talk about establishing living wage jobs and shared prosperity.

Establishing safe neighborhoods is a precursor to private-sector investment. People want the perception of where safety exists; and thus job and tax revenues follow.

Third priority is providing education that isn’t a function of where you live and your zip code.

Although the SRC and the School District project a surplus this year, financial planners believe there will be a looming deficit within the next two years. They believe the deficit will occur because of increased operating costs such as labor and health care, without long-term predictable funding sources, i.e., the state budget process.

cherelle-parkerCherelle Parker, 9th Dist.

I think the major issues facing Council this fall are the same ones we began to address in the spring, namely, how to help create more family-sustaining jobs for all Philadelphians and stabilize our neighborhoods.

I remain focused on exploring ways to ensure that residents have access to retirement security and are not adversely affected by products such as reverse mortgages.

I’m also committed to working with my colleagues to provide more dollars for housing preservation so that homeowners can stay in their homes and prevent the spread of blight.

I think there’s general consensus around these issues; the challenge is in finding appropriate solutions, but I look forward to that work.

blondell-reynolds-brownBlondell Reynolds Brown, at Large

Improving diversity and ensuring that the workforce reflects Philadelphia.

Local Business Entities: growing local businesses and strengthening the nexus between local businesses, the City of Philadelphia and importance of putting local businesses first.

Ensuring that the Economic Opportunities Plan is followed through and that MBE/WBE have equal opportunities to participate in these contracts.

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mark-squilla

Mark Squilla, 1st Dist.

The pension deficit; the fund balance and tax collection; and school funding.

All matter because the City needs to be financially strong to continue attracting businesses and residents that grow the tax base, and needs to provide services for the new and existing population.

The City needs to work with employees and find resources to pay down pension debt.

We need to keep our spending in check while increasing revenues and collecting all outstanding taxes.

We need to work with the Commonwealth and School District on establishing a fair funding model.

al-taubenbergerAl Taubenberger, at Large

1 is job creation, from vertical farming to promoting Philly-based companies.

2 is improving education, especially the implementation of Pre-K and Community Schools.

3 is public safety – we still have too many shootings every week and we have to address violence in the city.

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