New taxes, closed pools, layoffs: Philadelphia mayor offers new budget in light of COVID-19

Mayor Jim Kenney
Photo credit Holli Stephens/KYW Newsradio
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  Philadelphia’s fight against COVID-19, including a stay-at-home order that has shuttered most businesses, has cost the city $649 million, money that Mayor Jim Kenney will propose making up with a combination of cuts and tax increases when he presents a revised budget to City Council on Friday.

“I think everyone in the administration is disappointed at the financial condition we find ourselves in,” said the Mayor’s chief of staff, Jim Engler. “The level of services we can provide is not what we had originally intended.”

Among the cuts is an unspecified number of layoffs, including all the seasonal employees who staff public pools. The pools will not open this year.

Non-union employees making more than $35,000 per year would take a pay cut of one to seven percent under the mayor’s plan.

Three city departments would be consolidated or eliminated: the City Representative; Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy; and Workforce Development.

What was to be a new citywide street sweeping program would be tossed. Other new programs would be delayed, including the Catto Scholarship for Community College of Philadelphia students; some, such as the low-income rent subsidy, would be scaled back.

There would also be savings because major events that involve large crowds likely will be cancelled.

“We really needed to prioritize, given the size of the gap,” said budget director Marisa Waxman. “What we focused on was keeping Philadelphians safe, healthy and educated.”

She said the administration also used a “racial equity lens” when proposing cuts, to reduce disparities in who would be affected. 

“Disparities that currently exist, have historically existed, are exacerbated when we’re trying to make due with less resources both as a government but also for individual families and businesses,” she said.

She added that the city had learned from ill-considered cuts made during the Great Recession in 2008. As a result, she said, there would be no layoffs among police or firefighters, and city facilities, such as libraries, would remain open, though possibly with reduced hours and programming.

She said the administration would propose increasing its contribution to the School District of Philadelphia by $30 million, instead of the $45 million originally budgeted.

On the revenue side, the revised budget proposes an increase in the school district portion of real estate taxes that would boost tax bills by 3.95 percent. Waxman said that would raise the average tax bill by $58 per year.

The budget also proposes an increase in the parking tax, a freeze on the resident wage tax (which was scheduled to go down) and an increase in the non-resident wage tax. 

It also calls for freezing a scheduled decrease in the Business Income and Receipts Tax and eliminating the discount for early payment of real estate taxes. 

Additional revenue would come from increases in permit and license fees and for commercial tax collection.

“There are certain core services where there’s no other funding, no other service delivery mechanism and we had to make sure those were funded,” Waxman said.

She said the administration hopes the federal government, philanthropies and the private sector could step in to make up for some of the cuts.