Philadelphia city budget hearings enter their fifth week

City Hall
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council budget hearings continue this week with testimony scheduled from the Office of Homeless Services and Health Department on Tuesday and the courts and legal agencies on Wednesday. 

Last week's round of hearings included the first public testimony.

Forty people testified but a few broad themes emerged.

One is the sorry state of Philadelphia public school buildings and the need for the city to invest more in the district's capital program.

"Our students are poisoned by lead in the water and the paint, we are collapsing in classrooms that reach nearly 100 degrees in the summer, fall and spring heat. I've talked to educators who killed several mice a day," said one person. 

The method generally favored by those who testified was eliminating the ten-year tax abatement.

"Who does the ten-year tax abatement actually benefit? It's not the everyday Philadelphians. We should not be looking to attract developers and residents who end up contributing nothing to our school district," another person said. 

Airport CEO Chellie Cameron got to brag about the airport's banner year with 31.7 million passengers, the highest in a decade and second best ever.

"We also grew in the number of take-offs and landings, and cargo hit its second largest year ever," Cameron said.

Council members have been distinctly kinder to most department heads testifying before them but they will press on their issues, as Allan Domb did, asking deputy managing director Mike Carroll about potholes. 

"In the residents' eyes I've never seen it like I see it today, and you can ask anybody, when you drive all over the city your car is taking a beating," Domb said. 

Carroll blamed deferred maintenance, which he says the budget addresses.

Another major focus was the need for more library funding, as librarian Adam Feldman testified.

"We're experiencing serious challenges maintaining services," he said. 

The issue that most council members seem most concerned about, though, is making sure every department has a diverse workforce. Every department head was asked for the racial breakdown of their staff, setting the stage for the most serious source of tension, so far, in the Free Library, where staff have complained about bias. 

The Library is among the departments that have been called back for a follow up hearing April 30.

Another public hearing is scheduled for May 8.