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After veto override, Phila. must pay for parades

For those in Philadelphia who like to be in parades, here's a piece of advice: March while it's free.

For those in Philadelphia who like to be in parades, here's a piece of advice: March while it's free.

City Council on Thursday emancipated all community festivals and ethnic parades from city security and crowd-control costs, overriding Mayor Nutter's veto of a bill he said the city could not afford.

In a 13-3 vote, Council confirmed Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez's bill exempting all parades - from the Mummers to St. Patrick's Day - and neighborhood festivals from paying for police overtime.

That was welcome news in Lawncrest, where the Lawncrest Fourth of July Committee canceled its fireworks and parade in 2009 for the first time when faced with a $15,701 bill from the city.

"We just want to do what we've been doing for 95 years," said Stephen Cartledge, chairman of the committee, who was still trying on Thursday to salvage this year's parade or fireworks.

It may be only the latest move in the hard bargaining between Nutter, who says the city cannot underwrite privately run events when the city is cutting services, and Council, whose members say Nutter can do more to help keep important cultural and community happenings going.

"I pledge to continue . . . to work with the administration on a responsible solution that values the hundreds and thousands of volunteer hours put together by the citizens of Philadelphia in maintaining their festivals and their traditions," Sánchez said at Thursday's Council session after the vote.

Sánchez said she would introduce a bill to require some level of payment from community groups if negotiations were fruitful.

Nutter was not happy after the vote, suggesting that constituents must be "scratching their collective heads" to understand how the city can be cutting back on city services while Sánchez was so intently focused on parades.

"It's just one more fiscal challenge and problem, but it certainly did not have to end this way," said Nutter, who announced reduction of library services and the cancellation of two police recruit classes in response to a Council budget that he said was $20 million short on revenue.

Needing 12 of 17 votes for the override, Sánchez got 14, with only Councilmen W. Wilson Goode Jr., Curtis Jones Jr., and Jack Kelly voting against.

In an indication of Council's unity on the issue, Nutter's allies Councilmen Frank DiCicco and James F. Kenney voted for the override, even as DiCicco had voted against the original measure. It was the second Council override of a Nutter veto; the first was on May 20 over a bill to include paramedics and firefighters in the same union.

DiCicco, a Mummer and patron of the Columbus Day Parade and festival in South Philadelphia, said he had hoped to bring some perspective to the negotiating table. But, he said, Sánchez and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who formed a nonprofit organization to help with such events, said they were disappointed in the administration's proposals.

Sánchez met with the administration and representatives of the Greater Philadelphia Traditions Fund, a nonprofit Brady founded that was funded with $500,000 from philanthropist H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest to provide $100,000 a year for community events for five years.

The last straw came Thursday when The Inquirer reported that Nutter had written off the $300,000 bill for the Welcome America July Fourth celebration.

"I didn't want to send the message to folks in our community that somehow one event is more important than another," Kenney said.

"It really puts a lot of undue political pressure on people like myself," DiCicco said.

In other business Thursday, Council:

Passed Councilman Frank Rizzo's bill that would prevent property owners from seeking a zoning variance if they owe the city delinquent taxes. The vote was 16-1, with Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell voting against.

Approved Kenney's bill outlawing the towing of vehicles from private property without a ticket issued by Philadelphia police or Parking Authority officers. The bill is aimed at the illicit towing of vehicles, and was passed over the objections of tow-truck companies and Councilman Bill Green, who said the new law would overburden an already stretched police force.

Eliminated a loophole in the pension plan that would allow departing Managing Director Camille Cates Barnett to collect a pension of nearly $50,000 annually after less than 21/2 years on the job. Council voted unanimously for DiCicco's bill, which sets a minimum of five years of service before a civil service-exempt employee such as Barnett can buy credit for years worked elsewhere at government jobs.