On Thursday, City Council concluded its session. At the start of this session, the editorial board asked each Council member for their priorities for the upcoming months. Four months later, the vast majority of those priorities were met, including a historic reform to the 10-year tax abatement, reimbursement of wage taxes to low income Philly workers and a plastic bags ban.
Council deserves credit for their accomplishments, but the city still faces multiple urgent and complicated issues that both Council and the Mayor’s Office need to address when they return in January.
The problems of Philadelphia’s schools are not new, but this fall they went beyond budgetary to problems that could endanger children: asbestos in schools, lead in water, the loss of the district physician, and botched responses from the district and the Philadelphia Board of Education to each crisis. One of the most urgent things on City Hall’s to do list — Council and Mayor’s Office — is to formulate a plan to fund repairs, manage new construction, and rebuild trust between the district and parents.
In the spring, City Hall will be occupied with the city budget — which last year exceeded $5 billion and has increased under the Kenney administration by $1 billion. Now is a good time to remember that Council itself doesn’t answer to anyone on how their own $18 million annual budget is spent.
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Even for a town with a troubled history of policing, this year stood out, especially when Commissioner Richard Ross resigned. In the past week alone, an officer was arrested after being caught on video punching a handcuffed man, three police officers with a history of misconduct were promoted, and a new federal lawsuit was filed against an officer for excessive force. Mayor Jim Kenney imposed a December 31 deadline for selecting a new police commissioner. This is one of the most critical choices any mayor can make; for Kenney who presides over a city of high gun violence and chaos within the department, the stakes are even higher.
Philadelphia is on the unfortunate track of ending another year with increases in both shootings and homicides. The City’s investment in gun violence clearly still hasn’t borne fruit in a meaningful way. Worse, the city doesn’t know which of its programs are working because the efforts are not being evaluated. Council appropriated $5 million mid-year toward gun violence prevention, including evaluation. Evaluation must be a priority before more money is spent on efforts that don’t make a difference.
Last year, Allegheny County saw a 40% decrease in overdose deaths, compared to Philadelphia’s 8% decrease. According to preliminary data from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the city shouldn’t expect a big reduction in the 2019 figures. It’s been more than two months since a federal judge gave a green light for a supervised injection site in Philadelphia that would save live. It’s time for a site, or better multiple sites, to become operational.
A more exhaustive list of Philadelphia’s challenges would also include the need to fix property assessments, address sexual harassment in government, and alleviate the city’s staggering poverty rate.