3-2 vote to raise taxes
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 1:00 AM
With Tuesday's 3-2 vote to double city ad valorem taxes, Philadelphians will be among the highest taxed in the region.
The split angered the mayor and he admonished the two newly-elected Republican aldermen who voted against the increase, but they stood their ground, insisting on more fiscal responsibility and efficiency.
The millage rate increase from 10 mills to 20 mills to fund the $7.4 million 2014 budget is necessary, officials have said, to close what is expected to be a near $500,000 shortfall for fiscal 2013 - shortfalls now totaling more than $6 million over the last decade.
The tax increase will generate about $565,000. Taxes will be due after Jan. 1, 2014.
Republican Alderman-at-large Willie Jackson made the motion to adopt the budget and raise taxes.
Mayor James A. Young, a Democrat, called for a second on the motion three separate times.
"It's kinda like a fairy tale, it's not going to change," Young said, in calling for a second.
Democrat Ward 4 Alderman Cecil Nichols broke the silence.
"I don't like it but I will second it," he said.
Young was met with silence again when he called for a vote and only Jackson and Nichols raised their hands in support of the motion.
Facing what he thought was going to be a 2-3 vote, Young told aldermen that if the motion didn't pass "we would be back to square one."
Democrat Ward 3 Alderman James Tatum then raised his hand in support of the motion.
Ward 1 Alderman Josh Gamblin and Ward 2 Alderman Jim Fulton, both Republicans, voted against the motion.
Young expressed disappointment over the two dissenting votes, saying the board as a whole had worked together as a team to compile it.
"If you weren't confident we did the right thing to begin with, you should have done more talking," Young said. "I am disappointed. No one gets as much criticism as I do. I just think it is bad business to jump out of the truck. But, we will move forward."
Gamblin posed several questions prior to the motion being made on the fiscal 2014 budget.
He expressed concerns that aldermen do not pre-approve most purchases made by department heads.
He asked the mayor and aldermen to consider changing its policy to require pre-approval for any purchases over $500.
"I'm just not comfortable that we get a claims docket and the money is already spent," Gamblin said.
Gamblin - who voted against pay raises for city employees and filling two vacancies in the police department at an earlier meetings - said he would like to see the board save money by putting a hold on new hires when there is a retirement or resignation.
He said the money for those salaries would remain in the budget at the end of the year as a savings.
Fulton, who voiced opposition to the 10 mill increase prior to the motion being made, agreed with Gamblin.
"We need to be lean and efficient," he said, noting that just because there is money in a budget doesn't mean it had to be spent.
Fulton told aldermen that many residents in his ward had already been faced with the high cost of flood insurance.
He said the tax increase would add "another burden" to many in Ward 2.
"Next year, I hope everybody will be with me to go down on the millage," Fulton said.
Business owners and others packed a public hearing at City Hall last week to tell the mayor and aldermen that they could not afford the proposed 10-mill hike that will double the city portion of property taxes.
"We're trying to survive, too," said a business owner who pays more than $7,000 total in taxes on a car wash.
Concern was also expressed over the loss of business and industry. "What are we doing about it," one citizen asked.
The mayor's response was, "All we can do is roll out the red carpet."
The proposed general fund budget includes $7,435,767 in revenue and $7,405,575 in expenditures.
The general fund budget reflects a $30,192 surplus.
Under the new millage rate, a resident owning a home valued at $112,920 would see city taxes double, from $112.92 to $225.84. That resident would see his school taxes increase from $550 to about $570.
The owner of a $152,000 commercial building would see city taxes increase from $228.30 to $456.60. School taxes would also rise on commercial buildings.
The city millage increase would also increase taxes on car tag purchases.
The Mayor and Board of Aldermen plan to shift about $200,000 in TIF reserves for street paving. Street paving has been on hold for about six years.
Revenue in the 2013 budget includes an additional $100,00 from Philadelphia Utilities in lieu of taxes. PU currently pays the city $212,000 annually.
The fiscal 2014 budget also includes a projected $49,000 in additional sales tax for liquor sales in the city.
The amount of local tax revenue required annually to fund the city schools has surged by $1.2 million or 65 percent, since 2000, an analysis by The Neshoba Democrat has shown.
The bulk of what the city takes in from ad valorem taxes goes to the public schools.
Aldermen increased the school's millage from 62 to 63.6 to fund the city's share of the school budget, or about $3,107,342, which includes the shortfall.
Under the city's general fund budget, Police Department employees would receive a 63-cents-an-hour raise, while all other city employees would receive a 2-percent pay hike.
The mayor and board excluded themselves from the raises.
The raises do not affect employees with less than a year of service.
The fiscal 2014 budget would see the fire department budget increase from $1,458,416 to $1,499,420. The police department budget would decrease from $1,795,356 to $1,679,719. The street department's budget would increase from $691,011 to $735,953.
The general government budget would decrease from $2,632,028 to $2,442,062. Most of that reduction reflects a drop in grant monies.
While many asked for increases, the new budget includes the same funding for several agencies as the previous year including Main Street, $20,000; Historical Museum, $5,000; Arts Council, $3,000; Historic Preservation Commission, $500; public library, $45,465 and the Boys and Girls Club, $3,800.
The new budget also includes $20,000 for city beautification.
While the Park Commission did not seek in increase in the park budget, the city did include an additional $5,000 to help with a project in conjunction with the county for additional lighting on the soccer complex.
Aldermen discovered they'll have to also make up $62,839 shortfall for the schools stemming back to 2010.