That roaring noise you heard echoing from Southwest Philadelphia last night? It was the sound of an angry crowd packed into the Kingsessing Recreation Center booing Mayor Nutter's budget cuts at the top of their lungs.
Last night's town-hall meeting about Nutter's planned budget cuts - the seventh of eight such sessions around the city - was the most rowdy so far. The standing-room-only crowd hammered Nutter for his plans to close libraries and pools as part of a cost-cutting effort to shore up a more than $1 billion budget gap over the next five years.
The Kingsessing Library, next to the recreation center near Chester Avenue and 51st Street, is one of 11 libraries slated for closure. Nutter has repeatedly said he won't reconsider the closings.
"We walked up and down the streets to get you elected," said Lucille Walker, 46, a Kingsessing resident. "Now we need services. It's not right.
"This library here is a diamond in the rough, this is a rough neighborhood. What about the safety of this neighborhood? It seems like it's always Southwest."
Between choruses of boos, Nutter pleaded for understanding. He was flanked by top administrators, including Managing Director Camille Barnett, Finance Director Rob Dubow and Library Director Siobhan Reardon.
"Let us not get so locked into what the past has been about that we can't see into the future," Nutter said. "We have to make some changes in what we've been doing."
In addition to closing libraries and pools, Nutter plans to eliminate some fire equipment and delay tax cuts to close the budget gap. He has said that the shortfall - largely due to declining tax revenues and poor stock performance by the city pension fund - is likely to grow larger.
Library cuts drew by far the most criticism from the crowd during a question-and-answer session last night. Many asked for more details on how the city would provide library services in lieu of the closed branches.
Nutter said he would have a plan soon.
"There's no reason to take the drastic step of permanently closing all of these libraries due to a temporary financial problem," said Eric Braxton, 33, of Kingsessing, who said he learned to read in the Kingsessing branch.
The crowd repeatedly asked if Nutter had explored every way to generate revenue, at one point breaking into a chorus of "tax the rich."
"That's a wonderful applause line, but we're actually a little more serious than just doing an applause line," Nutter said. "We have to run this government and not run out of money."
Nutter said he was reviewing ways to reduce expenses, including pushing the state to pay more court costs and examining the combining or eliminating of independent elected offices. *