Facing a growing gap in the city's five-year financial plan, Mayor Nutter last month spelled out drastic steps to cut costs, including laying off city workers.
Now, as the budget crisis grows worse, Nutter is considering more jobs cuts. But this time he's targeting elected officials.
Nutter says that he's looking at eliminating or consolidating the city's "row offices" - which include the Sheriff, Clerk of Quarter Sessions and others. To do so, he would need City Council to approve legislation for a ballot measure to change the city's Home Rule Charter. Voters would then have to decide.
"We're looking at everything that is independent and not within the direct jurisdiction of the executive branch of the government," Nutter said when asked which offices he was reviewing. "This has nothing to do with the leadership or the individuals in those capacities. I'm not picking on them."
After another month of stock-market declines and reduced city tax revenues, Nutter said that the five-year budget shortfall will be larger than the $1 billion he announced in November.
Nutter repeatedly said yesterday that every aspect of the city's government, including all agencies and officials not under his control, needed to be "re-evaluated" during the fiscal crisis to see if there are more efficient ways of doing business.
"What I'm talking about is looking at a complete restructuring and reform of our entire city government," Nutter said.
Nutter also emphasized that 24 cents of every dollar that the city spends goes to the criminal-justice system - the District Attorney's Office, the sheriff, the Clerk of Quarter Sessions, police and city prisons. But he has no control over how those offices are administered and can't make them work together to cut costs.
Nutter said that that evaluation is now under way, adding it was too early to say when he might ask City Council to consider legislation for a charter change or whether such questions would be placed on the primary or general-election ballots in 2009.
The city's Home Rule Charter, passed in 1951, lays out the rules on how the city operates.
Nutter took his case to an unconvinced crowd of some 200 crammed into a small auditorium in Roxborough Memorial Hospital last night.
Although he delineated his proposals to merge some departments, revamp the tax structure and other measures, most people in the often boisterous crowd seemed largely focused on strenuous opposition to proposals to close libraries, eliminate fire-engine and ladder equipment and shut swimming pools.
Nutter, in his turn, was unmoved. He told the crowd that he had no intention of "re-evaluating any cuts already made."
Outside authorities have suggested for years that the city could save money by abolishing some of its elected city offices, like the sheriff and the clerk of quarter sessions.
The Sheriff's Office spends more than $15 million in city tax dollars a year to move prisoners in and out of the city court system, and to conduct sheriff sales of delinquent real estate, among other duties. The Clerk of Quarter Sessions spends $5 million handling criminal paperwork for the Philadelphia courts.
Wanda Davis, spokeswoman for Sheriff John D. Green, said that he would not comment on Nutter's statement. Clerk of Quarter Sessions Vivian T. Miller did not return a message left at her home.
Nutter acknowledged that long-term elected officials will likely fight for their survival.
"When you have to make these kinds of tough decisions, you have to be in a position to evaluate everything in front of you," Nutter said. "These components of a city government cannot be exempt from evaluation."
City voters in last month's general election enthusiastically embraced governmental consolidation, voting by a 3-to-1 ratio to merge the Fairmount Park Commission with the city's Department of Recreation. Nutter backed that plan.
Nutter also hopes to reduce the city's expenditures in the courts and criminal justice system by pressuring the state to pick up more court costs, urging the D.A.'s Office to dispose of more cases through plea-bargaining and reforming bail procedures to keep non-violent offenders out of jail while awaiting trial.
And Nutter last night told the town hall meeting that he plans to review the city fleet to look at everyone who is assigned a car, including elected officials. *