As Council adjourns, it's raining bills

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Council passed Maria Quinones-Sanchez's bill yesterday to make Philadelphia the nation's largest city to create a land bank.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Council passed Maria Quinones-Sanchez's bill yesterday to make Philadelphia the nation's largest city to create a land bank.
Posted: December 13, 2013

BEFORE ADJOURNING for its five-week holiday vacation, City Council yesterday passed a flurry of important bills.

Here's a wrap-up of what went down:

* After years of proposals, months of negotiations and weeks of uncertainty, Council unanimously passed a bill to make Philadelphia the largest city in the country to create a land bank.

Lawmakers hope the new agency, intended to streamline the process of selling land now handled by an array of agencies, will breathe new life into the tens of thousands of abandoned, vacant and blighted buildings throughout the city.

Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, the bill's champion, and Council president Darrell Clarke, a co-sponsor, last week reached a long-awaited compromise over how much sway Council should have in the new land-disposal process, paving the way for a final vote.

The deal included Clarke's wish to preserve the Vacant Property Review Committee, led by an appointee of his. Sanchez was happy to put the squabble behind her.

"We look for the initial board to give us policies and regulations this year," she said. "We'd like to see a budget allocation in the next budget cycle."

* Clarke also called up a bill that would establish a new board to set water rates for Philadelphia residents.

Currently, the water commissioner sets rates with input from a public advocate. The Clarke bill, which passed 15-0, creates a panel of five mayoral appointees to do the job.

Clarke amended the bill last week and stripped out a series of financial standards that would have affected the floor for how low the board can set rates, such as a requirement that the rates must at least pay for all of the utility's operating expenses.

The administration opposed those amendments, arguing that the standards are necessary to secure the Philadelphia Water Department's standing with creditors.

"While none of us wants to be solely driven to meet the demands of Wall Street, the reality is that PWD is very dependent on the capital markets," city Treasurer Nancy Winkler wrote in a letter to Clarke last week.

Clarke said the standards now in the bill represent a compromise between the administration's view and public advocates who wanted lower requirements.

Council will begin handling nominations to the board when it returns next month, he said.

* In the May primary, voters will likely see a ballot question that could end the city's "resign to run" rule, which requires city officeholders to quit their jobs before seeking new elected offices.

Councilman David Oh, who authored the measure, hopes his proposed Home Rule Charter amendment will encourage Philly's top politicians to seek state offices and boost the city's clout in Harrisburg.

Mayor Nutter, who resigned his Council seat to run for mayor in 2007, opposes the bill, but Oh has enough Council votes to override a potential veto.

Voters defeated a similar measure in 2007.

* Also yesterday, Council voted to extend the deadline for residents to apply for a new property-tax break, the Longtime Owner Occupants Program, until Feb. 17.

Lower-income residents who have lived in their homes for 10 years and saw their property assessments triple this year due to the Actual Value Initiative may be eligible for the "gentrification relief" program.

Council meets next on Jan. 22.


On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN

Blog: ph.ly/PhillyClout

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