The Philadelphia program funding improvements to dozens of city parks, libraries, and recreation centers is back on schedule.
On Tuesday, legislation related to Mayor Jim Kenney’s signature Rebuild initiative passed through City Council’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee, and is set to receive a vote in the full Council this week.
The procedural hurdle came days after the committee chair refused to bring up a resolution approving the Rebuild program’s slate of projects for a vote, saying the allocation to her district, which includes swaths of North and Northwest Philadelphia, was between $15 million and $30 million less than other districts “with similar need.”
City Councilmember Cindy Bass said she ultimately decided to hold the vote Tuesday after striking a deal that ensures her district will receive a “significant increase” in funding for improvements that put it “on par” with similar majority-Black and brown districts.
She wouldn’t divulge details of the agreement in an interview Tuesday. She said several Council members supported her move, and that Council President Darrell L. Clarke was involved in negotiations.
Spokesperson Kevin Lessard said the administration is “thankful” the committee greenlit the legislation. Officials had warned that the five-year-old, $400 million Rebuild program would have been in jeopardy ahead of the budget year that begins July 1 if its project statement outlining spending didn’t clear Bass’ committee.
“Rebuild’s lifesaving work is critical to our residents and neighborhoods,” Lessard said, “and we look forward to continuing this historic investment in public spaces.”
At the inception of the Rebuild program — which is funded by a tax on sweetened beverages passed in 2016 — Kenney administration officials worked with district Council members to identify the facilities across the city with the most need. Rebuild Executive Director Kira Strong said the administration tried to prioritize areas with higher rates of poverty, crime, and other markers of underinvestment, and a list of 72 sites was approved by Council at the inception of the Rebuild program.
Bass said dollar figures weren’t agreed upon at that time, and during the committee’s session Tuesday, she asked Strong to provide more detailed information about how spending is prioritized.
“This is a matter of transparency, and this is a matter of fairness,” she said. “So we can move forward today, but this is not going to be something that’s going to go away.”
Under the initial project statement for Rebuild, Bass’ 8th District was slated to receive $31 million for improvements. Three of the city’s 10 Council districts were to see less than that, with the lowest amount going to Councilmember Brian J. O’Neill’s 10th District in Northeast Philadelphia.
The average allocation was $39.5 million per district. But Bass said the average amount going to “historically underfunded and underserved communities of color” was more than $50 million, and that hers got the least of any of those districts.
The reshuffling of funds agreed to this week, she said, “will put us in line with what most of my colleagues in similarly situated districts are receiving.”
Several other members expressed support for Bass during the hearing Tuesday, including Councilmember Maria D. Quiñones-Sánchez, who said the city doesn’t “blink” at spending tens of millions of dollars funding projects in wealthier parts of the city. She cited a $250 million improvement plan at FDR Park in South Philadelphia, where the city has committed to spending $50 million over the next five years.
“We need that same sense of urgency in those smaller parks,” she said. “For those folks, that is their Six Flags. That is their Dorney Park.”