City proposes 100% tax hike
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 1:00 AM
A substantial tax increase that will generate about $565,000 to make up a recurring shortfall is part of an overall $7.4 million budget proposed by the Philadelphia Mayor and Board of Aldermen Tuesday night that includes a modest pay raise for city employees.
A final public hearing on the 2014 budget that includes raises for employees totaling $49,546 is set for Sept. 3 at 5 p.m. at City Hall. The hike doubles general fund millage from 10 to 20 mills.
The tax increase comes after six consecutive years of spending about $6 million more than the city has taken in. Cash reserves built up over decades are nearly depleted.
Philadelphia has been spending about $380,000 annually since 2005 to cover its share of the
$6 million in park improvements debt.
The proposed 10-mill tax increase would, for example, mean an additional $100 on a $100,000 home. Additionally, the tax increase will impact motor vehicle tags.
Ward 3 Alderman Josh Gamblin called the pay raises "ludicrous" when raising taxes.
He told the board he favored balancing the budget first and then in two to three years "giving everybody the raise" they deserve.
Mayor James A Young asked aldermen to consider a higher pay raise than the proposed 2 percent.
Aldermen will formally vote on the budget after the Sept. 3 hearing.
Revenue in the 2014 budget includes an additional $100,000 from Philadelphia Utilities in lieu of taxes. PU currently pays the city $212,000 annually.
Aldermen are projecting an increase in sales returns to generate an additional $49,846.
The board plans to shift about $200,000 in TIF reserves for street paving, which hasn't been done in more than six years.
Under the proposed budget, police employees would receive a 63-cents-an-hour raise, while all other city department 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.
Gamblin pushed for the tax increase but voiced opposition multiple times during a Monday night budget work session that he was against the pay raises.
He told board members that his goal was to adopt a balanced budget.
"We are taxing and spending," Gamblin said of the raises. "That is what we are doing. We are trying to provide services to the city. We are not an employment service."
Young on Monday voiced support for both the millage increase and the raises.
"Our employees are what make this city great," he said. "I'll take the heat. If I couldn't take it I wouldn't be in this chair. Without these people, we can't manage this city. Can I take criticism for giving our employees a raise? Yes. I really don't care."
He said many city employees make just above minimum wages.
"It's not like they make $100,000 a year," he said.
During Tuesday night's board meeting, Young asked aldermen to reconsider a higher pay raise than 2 percent.
"I want you to soak in that 2 percent," Young said, noting that it would only be a 16-cent an hour increase for an employee making $8 an hour.
Ward 4 Alderman Cecil Nichols agreed, saying city employees deserved even more.
He accused Gamblin of not considering employees' best interests, which drew a quick response back.
"I do consider them and I know that's a good arrow that y'all can throw at me," Gamblin said. "We have a negative budget that we are trying to get balanced."
In the new year, the budgets of all individual city departments would remain the same as the previous year except for the added pay raises.
Two vacancies in the police department and one in the fire department would not be filled in 2014.
The proposed budget does not include any increases for the Arts Council, public library, conservation service or Main Street.
The Arts Council asked for an additional $2,000; library, $2,400; conservation service, $300 and Main Street, $12,000.
The city's 2014 budget does include a one-time $5,000 contribution to the parks to help fund additional lighting at the soccer complex.
Aldermen said the parks contribution is being matched by the Board of Supervisors.
The budget also includes a one-time additional $25,694 for a new truck in the street department to replace one that recently caught on fire under the hood and burned.
To generate new revenue for fiscal 2014, the proposed budget includes a $75,000 savings from the sale of a dump truck that is utilized at the landfill.
Aldermen agreed to sell the truck and purchase a used one at a lesser cost.
The consensus of the board was to further utilize the services of the county road department at the landfill.
In addition, the board hopes to save $1,750 in 2014 by paying the county to haul gravel to the landfill instead of an outside contractor.
Alderman included money in the proposed budget for the city to absorb 3 percent of a projected 15 percent in employee insurance premiums.
Chief of Police Bill Cox pushed early in the budgeting process for a raise for his officers and support personnel.
"They sell this city their lives for 8 to 12 hours a day and they won't get it back," Cox said in seeking the raises.
He told aldermen that he could absorb the raises in his budget by not filling two vacant slots in his department.
A newly certified police officer currently makes $11.44 an hour before the proposed raise.
Fire Chief Pierce Clark pushed for a 3 percent raise in his department.
A newly certified firefighter makes $8.58 an hour before the proposed raise.
The salaries of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen would remain the same under the 2014 budget. The mayor is paid $55,000 annually and aldermen, $13,800.
The city also pays their health insurance and retirement match.
Aldermen have projected about a $520,000 shortfall for fiscal 2013 which ends Sept. 30.