In Philadelphia's latest budget, cuts abound

Posted: July 15, 2010

It was good news for libraries and bad news for pretty much everything else yesterday as Mayor Nutter announced the latest round of cuts to the city budget.

Nutter's revised budget for 2010-11 includes substantial cuts to the police and fire overtime budgets, as well as reductions to most other city departments. Officials yesterday submitted the budget to the city's fiscal watchdog, the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, which has 30 days to review the plan.

"We've tried to do our best to balance a variety of interests here," said Nutter. "The cuts are very broad, they affect every department and agency. But we tried to make sure they were not so deep as to decimate departments and have a significant impact on service delivery."

Nutter did rescind a previously announced $2.5 million cut to the library system, which would have reduced service at branch libraries to four days a week. Instead, Nutter said he would use excess money received through the recent tax-amnesty program to preserve services at libraries, which were slashed during previous rounds of cuts.

"I am so thrilled with what the mayor just did," said Amy Dougherty, executive director of the Friends of the Free Library. "During these tough times, he is making good on his promises not to cut libraries further."

And instead of closing two Fire Department companies, as originally announced, officials instead said they would cut the overtime budget by $3.6 million, forcing "rolling closures" of about four companies each day.

Nutter also announced a plan to cut $6.3 million in police overtime. That's on top of canceling two Police Academy classes scheduled for the coming year.

"Doing a better job at managing overtime is important to the overall performance of our city government," Nutter said.

The latest cuts come after a bumpy budget season in which Nutter and City Council couldn't agree on how to balance the books.

In May, Nutter announced $20 million in cuts after Council passed a $3.7 billion budget that excluded Nutter's proposed soda tax. A few weeks later, Nutter officials said they were looking to cut an additional 2 to 4 percent due to weak tax revenues.

Those plans combine for a total of $47 million in cuts. The cuts include: $1 million from the city's community-college payment, $1.8 million from the Department of Parks and Recreation, $1.1 million from the cultural fund and $1.8 million from the Department of Human Services. Only 10 workers will receive pink slips, from the Office of Supportive Housing.

About $840,000 will be cut from the city-funded vacant-lot program, run by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The group was originally to receive $2.4 million.

And, of course, the budget might not be finished yet. The city still has unresolved contracts with three of four municipal unions, tax revenues could take another turn for the worse and if the state doesn't receive expected federal funding, then Harrisburg would have a budget gap that could trickle down to Philly.

"These are all contingencies that we have to be concerned about and have to be prepared for. But for the moment, this is the budget that we have," Nutter said. "The numbers add up. They make sense."

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