Budget show hits the road

Council gathering in SW Phila. draws concerns besides $$

Posted: March 15, 2012

FOR THE FIRST time in two years, City Council took its show on the road last night, kicking off the budget season with a community hearing in Southwest Philadelphia.

Unlike in past years, there was no galvanizing issue or populist anger, but the standing-room crowd in the St. John's AME Church basement still brought plenty of passion to the microphone.

The issues stretched across a range of grievances - crime, jobs, blight, affordable housing, economic development, city services - and touched on some of the problems specific to the Southwest community, such as the historic tensions between African and Caribbean immigrants and their African-American neighbors.

A few speakers mentioned the Actual Value Initiative, the city's move to assess properties based on their market value for tax purposes. Mayor Nutter is proposing to embed a $90 million increase in the AVI, and some homeowners in historically undervalued areas could see big jumps in their tax bills.

After one speaker expressed concern that older people could lose their homes in the process, Council President Darrell L. Clarke acknowledged that AVI discussions would be "the cornerstone" of this year's budget process.

Tracy Gordon, a community activist and former Council candidate, gave a fiery talk on the need for minority hiring and the ills of bad landlords, and lamented the trashing of Cobbs Creek Park - one of her signature issues.

"Our parks are so infested and dangerous . . . Where is the money for our district and our health?" she asked.

"I went down to West River Drive and they were jogging and there wasn't even a cigarette butt."

Another resident, Tyrone Beverly, complained about homes sinking on Lindbergh Boulevard and the uneven development around the city.

"We have areas out here where we're paying high taxes and children don't even have a place to play," he said. "We just want a piece of the pie. We don't need the whole pie. We just need a slice."

The meeting was initiated by Clarke. "I figured, why not?" he said before it started. "The reason is to maximize the participation of community residents by having these hearings out in the neighborhoods."

Clarke said he plans to hold more community meetings throughout the city.

Nutter's annual budget address a week ago contained few controversial proposals such as closing libraries or city pools.

Council must pass a budget by the end of June.

Contact Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or tgraham@ phillynews.com, or follow @troyjgraham on Twitter.

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