Budget input's on Nutter's menu in kitchen-table sessions

Mayor Nutter greets participants at the budget-input session at the home of Helen-Hellon Divers in Southwest Philadelphia.
Mayor Nutter greets participants at the budget-input session at the home of Helen-Hellon Divers in Southwest Philadelphia.
Posted: February 23, 2010

The tough times aren't over yet, Mayor Nutter told a gathering of city residents and community activists in a Southwest Philadelphia home last night.

He spent more than an hour with about 25 people crammed into the home of Democratic Committeewoman Helen-Hellon Divers, talking about the challenges he faces as he puts together his next budget. Nutter stressed that with declining revenues and a looming budget gap, something will have to give.

"It would be a win for us just to hold onto the things that we have," said Nutter, who is scheduled to make his budget address on March 4.

Nutter plans to spend the next 10 days meeting with community groups, elected officials, block captains and business leaders. The visit to Divers' home was the first of several "kitchen table" sessions. Nutter made a similar pilgrimage to her home during last year's budget process.

Due to lagging tax revenues and some unexpected costs, like snow removal, the city is looking at a deficit of $125 million to $150 million in the 2011 fiscal year, which starts July 1. The hole in the five-year financial plan is projected at $500 million to $700 million. Service cuts are expected, along with possible layoffs.

But Nutter did not say last night how he planned to close the budget gap, instead asking residents about their priorities.

"Obviously after last year, we're very, very concerned about looking at any additional taxes," Nutter said. "We're reluctant to raise taxes, we don't want to cut services."

Several people packed into Divers' living room said they wanted services to be maintained.

"It is essential, it is a priority that we keep the libraries, the recreations centers, the pools," said Carolyn Morgan, 67, who lives in the Kingsessing neighborhood. "We keep our programs going, we keep our children off the street."

Asked by Nutter about how he could increase revenues, some attendees suggested more aggressive delinquent tax collection or seeking more corporate or nonprofit aid for programs. Nutter said he was going after taxes owed the city and that there has already been some key corporate support, although he'd happily welcome more.

The level of public budget engagement this winter does not compare to last year, when emotions in the city were running high after a series of unpopular service cuts in the fall. In response, city officials participated in four community budget workshops around the city before Nutter gave his budget address. At those sessions, citizens broke into small groups to debate the merits of a list of tax boosts or service cuts.

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