We understand if the city budget news makes your head spin.
Over the past few weeks, the budget negotiations and rhetoric in City Hall have reached a fever pitch, with Mayor Nutter and City Council haggling over the proposed soda tax, and Nutter laying out more cuts.
It's complicated. And you probably want to know only what it means for your quality of life, your neighborhood and your checkbook. Here are the answers:
_ Is the budget done? It looks that way. Council has approved a $3.7 billion plan for the fiscal year starting July 1. And members say that they're not planning to do anything else, despite gloomy warnings from the mayor.
_ Will my taxes go up? Yep. City Council approved a 9.9 percent property-tax hike, scheduled to last for the next two years.
_ What's happening with the proposed soda tax? For now, that measure is shelved. Nutter proposed a sugary-drinks tax as part of his budget, but Council did not approve the levy - and doesn't seem likely to revisit it.
_ What's going to happen to services, like libraries and recreation centers? You will see some changes. After the soda tax failed, Nutter announced another $20 million in cuts. As part of those cuts, Nutter said that branch libraries will be open only four days a week, and two fire companies will be closed.
_ Why did he have to cut the $20 million? I thought Council passed a balanced budget? This is kind of confusing. Even though the budget passed by Council is balanced with $42 million to spare, Nutter says that without money from the soda tax, there isn't going to be enough cash on hand each month to get through the year. According to Nutter's aides, this could make it harder to borrow and run the city. Nutter announced the $20 million in cuts to help ease the cash problem.
_ But weren't even more cuts announced this week? Yes, the city budget director announced immediate freezes on hiring and spending, as well as 2-percent cuts to all departments in the next budget year. He said that this was because tax revenues are lower than expected.
_ Is this all for real? Or is the mayor just trying to pressure Council into a soda tax? The old "is he bluffing?" question. Unfortunately, we're not mind readers. The mayor is saying that this is real and that his staff is moving forward to make these cuts.
_ Why can't the city cut fat from Council or the row offices? In fact, Council has agreed to a $1 million cut to its budget. Nutter can't directly cut budgets of the independent offices - like the City Commissioners or the Sheriff - but staffers said that they were planning to talk with those offices.
_ Have union contracts been settled? What will the mayor do if they have to give raises? Contracts remain a huge question mark. Nutter is counting on spending less for contracts, but it's not clear that he can do that. Since contracts for the four municipal unions expired last June, only one unit has reached a new deal - the local Fraternal Order of Police, which got a contract that included raises through binding arbitration in December.
A contract for firefighters will be settled the same way and is expected in the next few weeks. But there has been little progress with the city's blue- and white-collar workers. If Nutter can't get the savings he wants, something else will have to give.
_ Haven't the city been making budget cuts for years? How much has been cut at this point? A lot. Nutter closed a $1 billion five-year deficit in late 2008 and another $1.4 billion five-year deficit in 2009. Along the way, hundreds of jobs have been eliminated, services reduced at libraries and funding cut for pools. In addition, the city got permission to temporarily raise the sales tax and delay payments into the battered pension fund. The administration says that it ran out of easy things to do a long time ago.
_ What's going on with the state budget? The state is likely to go past its June 30 budget deadline for the second year in a row. This could seriously impact the city if reimbursements for state-funded social services aren't made.