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Nutter says city finances are getting worse

Mayor Nutter warned at a town hall meeting last night that the city's already dire financial situation is continuing to deteriorate.

Mayor Nutter warned at a town hall meeting last night that the city's already dire financial situation is continuing to deteriorate.

"Unfortunately, I have to tell you here tonight that things have gotten worse" since last month, when he discussed Philadelphia's financial woes in a live television address.

Citing the recent dismal performance of the city's pension fund, and startlingly low real estate transfer-tax collections, Nutter said the city's five-year deficit would be larger than the $1 billion estimate he made Nov. 6.

Just how much larger won't likely become clear until January, Nutter said, when the administration will be better positioned to quantify it.

The city will begin drafting a new budget then, and administration officials expect to have a fuller picture of how weak the revenue is likely to be this year.

"The warning signs are clearly there, and we wanted to let people know so they weren't surprised later," Finance Director Rob Dubow said in a phone interview before the meeting last night.

The city has collected $88.6 million in real estate transfer taxes so far this fiscal year, more than $28 million less than last year. The numbers are so anemic that Dubow and Nutter fear the city will not even meet its revised austerity budget figures.

The fall has been just as cruel to the city's pension fund, which lost 12 percent of its value in October alone. The worse the pension fund performs, the more the city has to pay out of its budget to ensure that retirees get their pension payments.

Nutter also said the city's fiscal shape could worsen as the state's financial woes do; the state may cut funding to the city.

"We cannot predict the future; we know what we have in front of us," he said.

News of the still-widening budget hole did not quiet the criticism of many angry Northeast-area residents who attended last night's town hall meeting at the John M. Perzel Community Center.

In a sometimes-angry atmosphere, dozens of audience members held up green neon signs saying "Fire Dept. cutbacks kill."

Among those present were City Council members Joan Krajewski, who represents many Northeast neighborhoods, and at-large member Frank Rizzo.

Many of the questions and criticisms were akin to those asked at previous meetings.

Ten-year-old Tim McHale pointed to the Holmesburg library that is slated to close, and asked: "How will the bookmobile replace the library if it only comes once a week?"

Nutter conceded, "It's fair to say we haven't figured that out yet."

Many last night also expressed sympathy for Nutter's predicament, with one woman offering to pay her 2010 taxes now.

It was the fourth, and largest yet, by far, of eight such meetings Nutter is holding citywide.

One woman asked a question about the city's funding of parade services. She identified herself as president of the Philadelphia Optimists Club, to which Nutter quipped: "I need a little bit of that."

Meetings on Cuts

Mayor Nutter plans to hold four more town hall meetings on city budget cuts. They will begin at 7 p.m. and last about two hours. People are asked to arrive by 6:45. The dates and locations:

Today: Roxborough Memorial Hospital, Wolcroff Auditorium, 5800 Ridge Ave.

Tomorrow: Benjamin Franklin High School, 550 N. Broad St.

Dec. 16: Kingsessing Recreation Center, 5100 Chester Ave.

Dec. 18: Martin Luther King High School, 6100 Stenton Ave.