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Another unfortunate tech upgrade for Philly city government | Editorial

City Hall can't afford to routinely squander precious tax dollars and do nothing about it.

Philadelphia City Hall.
Philadelphia City Hall.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

While Philadelphia taxpayers are still choking on this year's double-digit spike in property assessments (on top of four recent property tax hikes), the city was spending $44 million on a computer system that will pay thousands of employees more for doing the same or less work.

This is one of those "Only in Philadelphia" boondoggles that drives taxpayers to the suburbs.

For the sake of so-called uniformity, the new computer system will move some employees from an eight-hour work day to 7.5 hours. But they will still get paid as though they worked eight hours. Others who are required to work eight hours will get paid for 8.5 hours. And 11,000 workers will get a 10 percent increase in their overtime pay rate.

To top it off, the city has no idea how much the uniformity will cost taxpayers. But a worker making $50,000 a year will get a pay bump of $3,072. That adds up over the years.

Higher salaries also equal fatter lifetime pensions. It will also result in higher DROP payments, a separate, well-documented, legerdemain that has awarded thousands of retirees six-figure lump-sum payouts, costing the city $1.5 billion and counting since 1999, according to a recent report in Philadelphia Magazine.

Call the new computer system DROP 2.0. But, hey, for $44 million, the city's HR department will have "uniformity."

This computer fiasco raises the question: What are Mayor Kenney and City Council going to do about it?

No CEO in his or her right mind would pay $44 million for a defective computer system that overpays employees thousands of dollars a year for "uniformity." Neither should city taxpayers.

Kenney and Council should demand the company fix the computer system or take it back.

Of course, the city's track record when it comes to technology upgrades is one of gross incompetence, or worse. In July 2017, former City Controller Alan Butkovitz outlined a series of wasteful technology expenditures and urged the city to improve oversight of costly IT systems.

The senseless spending included:

  1. $50 million for five different water billing systems from 2007 through 2012.

  2. $13.9 million for police surveillance cameras, of which only half were found to be working properly.

  3. $6 million annually for the Philly311 call system, where 90 percent of calls went unmonitored.

  4. $2 million for unused wireless equipment found stored in unopened boxes in the back of a city-run warehouse.

The city Department of Prisons recently blew nearly $6 million on a software upgrade that was never completed. Former Mayor Michael Nutter championed high-tech trash cans that were going to save the city $1 million a year. An audit last year found the city frittered away $6.5 million on 1,000 of the solar-powered Big Belly trash cans but didn't save a penny and most of the units don't work.

At each turn, the waste is met with a shrug and zero accountability. Given the constant financial pressure facing the budget and pension system, City Hall can't afford to routinely squander precious tax dollars and do nothing about it.