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City Council’s construction tax drama over; now the work begins | Editorial

Nothing gets done without prioritizing.

City Council President Darrell Clarke speaks to the media during a press conference after a city council meeting, in Philadelphia, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer
City Council President Darrell Clarke speaks to the media during a press conference after a city council meeting, in Philadelphia, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff PhotographerRead moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

The first City Council meeting for the fall was dominated by construction impact tax drama. Now that a compromise has been reached between Mayor Jim Kenney and Council, it is time to focus on other matters. Council's agenda typically spans the very small-bore problems to big and complicated ones. In fact, when we recently polled Council members about their priorities, we got an exhaustive — to say nothing of unrealistic — laundry list of items. (Fifteen Council members responded to our request; Brian O'Neill and Jannie Blackwell didn't.)

>> READ MORE: Mayor Kenney, City Council find compromise on construction tax. At what cost? | Editorial

Because nothing gets done without prioritizing, we're offering our own list of the big issues that Council needs to tackle before June.

Opioids:  Three people die of drug overdose every day in the city, but only three council members — Allan Domb, Bobby Henon, Cindy Bass — had the opioid epidemic as a part of their top priorities for the fall. This is probably not surprising, because the problem requires Council to bear down on some tough issues, like zoning conflicts around methadone sites, expanding services such as syringes and naloxone, and expanding evidence-based treatment options. These are hard choices; that's why this page has called on Council to show strong political will when it comes to the crisis.

Property taxes: While it is commonly agreed that the 10-year property tax abatement spurred development and growth, there's a growing question about how fair and useful it still is. Last spring, Council received two reports — one from the Office of the Controller and another commissioned by the  mayor from a research firm in Chicago — analyzing the impact of the abatement and what would happen under potential reform scenarios. We favor reconsidering the abatement, but action is needed now, since this change will take close to a decade for new revenue to flow.

This month, council is expected to receive an independent audit of the city's property assessment process. If assessments are too high, as many homeowners contend, some homeowners will have to pay more than their fair share of taxes. Mistakes could also throw off the City budget, so Council will need to find money somewhere else.

Workers: In June, Councilwoman Helen Gym introduced a bill that requires big chain retailers and restaurants to give workers two-weeks' notice of their schedule and pay workers when shifts are canceled. This page called the bill "smart business," and we look forward to seeing the bill enacted this fall.

Sexual harassment: In July, the Controller released a report investigating how the City handles sexual harassment complaints. The mayor then signed an executive order instituting a new policy that comes short of addressing the audit's main finding: the need of a centralized system to investigate complaints. If the mayor won't establish a body dedicated to sexual harassment complaints, Council should.

Pension: Philadelphia's pension fund is $6 billion short of being fully funded. Council should adjust the  mechanism that gives retirees bonuses when the fund's investments perform well — and give out bonuses only when the pension fund is close to fully funded. That alone isn't enough, but it's a critical step.