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Nutter announced $20 million more in cuts

The city will sharply reduce the hours of its new 311 call center, delay a police recruiting class, and cut $1.5 million from a politically sensitive low-income housing fund, Mayor Nutter said yesterday as he announced yet another round of budget cuts topping $20 million.

The city will sharply reduce the hours of its new 311 call center, delay a police recruiting class, and cut $1.5 million from a politically sensitive low-income housing fund, Mayor Nutter said yesterday as he announced yet another round of budget cuts topping $20 million.

The mayor said the cuts were necessary because of the "inaction" of state lawmakers, who are considering legislation that would let the city increase its sales tax and reduce pension payments over the short term.

While the cuts Nutter announced yesterday are comparatively small, they are real and lasting.

In all, this round of cuts will eliminate 30 city government positions. Although 18 of the positions are empty, a dozen workers will be laid off.

"This is the real cost of delay in Harrisburg," Nutter said at a City Hall news conference.

Each month that the city's legislation fails to win approval costs Philadelphia about $10 million in lost sales-tax income, Nutter said.

Although the House has passed the bill authorizing the sales-tax increase and pension-payment structuring, the Senate began considering the legislation only recently, and no vote is likely until Aug. 26 at the earliest, according to a timetable released last week by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware).

The cuts announced yesterday were small compared with what will be necessary if the Senate rejects the city's legislative requests. That scenario would force Philadelphia to adopt what Nutter has called a "doomsday" or "Plan C" budget, which would include mass police and fire layoffs, as well as twice-monthly garbage collection.

That scenario is unlikely, because Senate leaders have indicated they will eventually pass some version of what the city wants. But even if the Senate were to approve the city's legislation immediately, the $20 million in cuts would have to be made, Nutter said. He said the state was not being asked to provide any financial assistance to the city.

"We are not asking for two cents from Harrisburg. We're asking for two tools to help us help ourselves," Nutter said.

He repeatedly called on the Senate to pass the legislation without amendments, so it can reach the governor's desk as quickly as possible.

The Senate, however, appears determined to take at least a few weeks considering the bill, and an amendment is all but certain. Republican leaders in the Senate see the bill as a chance to force the city to address its chronic underfunding of its public-employee pension plan.

"The overall goal is to make sure that the pension does not get into this same situation again," Pileggi said.

Pileggi noted that the Senate had had the bill for less than two weeks, and so, he said, the Senate could hardly be blamed for any lost sales-tax revenue.

"We had a hearing last Wednesday. There's another hearing scheduled for this Wednesday. There's been continual work on an amendment to the bill to address the pension problem. We're going to continue to work diligently and quickly to address the issues raised in the bill," Pileggi said.

If the bill is amended, it would be sent back to the House, further delaying the city's collection of the increased sales tax.

Meanwhile, the city is obligated to prepare a new budget and five-year plan on the assumption that Harrisburg will not approve its sales-tax and pension proposals.

The Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority - a state agency with oversight over Philadelphia's long-term financial planning - has given the city until the end of the month to come up with the plan.

Though this "Plan C" is unlikely to be enacted, the city nonetheless has begun the arduous bureaucratic process of determining which civil-service employees would be laid off, based on seniority, job titles, and performance.

City Council President Anna C. Verna notified Council members last week that they might have to return for three unusual summer meetings to vote on a new five-year plan. It is now unclear whether those meetings, including a hearing, will occur. The first was scheduled for today, but Council has received no legislation from the mayor's office.

Nutter said yesterday that while the administration's revised five-year plan must be submitted to Council - and will be - Council is not required to hold a hearing or to vote on it.

Nutter Announces Cuts

Philadelphia's temporary sales-tax increase hasn't won approval from Harrisburg, depriving the city of $10 million a month. That has forced the following cuts:

Hours of the 24-hour 311 call center will be sharply reduced. Starting Aug. 29, the service will be closed Sundays, and open only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. The move will save $230,000 a year.

More than 100 police cadets will not be hired this fall as scheduled, saving $3.2 million.

The city will not purchase replacement vehicles - except police cars - saving $4.8 million.

More than $10 million in additional cuts: eliminating empty positions, laying off a dozen workers, and canceling contracts mostly in internal service departments, such as Finance and Public Property.EndText