By Mayor Michael A. Nutter
In recent weeks, I’ve gone to churches and synagogues, barber shops and beauty salons, diners and civic associations to gain insight from Philadelphians into the Great Recession and its devastating impact on our city’s families.
You can never go wrong when you reach out to Philadelphians because they tell it like it is. They’ve told me tearful stories of lost jobs and lost homes. They worry that vital city services may be taken away, making their children less safe. They’ve revealed their growing frustration with making ends meet, stretching their grocery budgets and juggling essential monthly bills. For many, the future is no longer a time to be hoped for.
These visits to assess the fiscal health of people are not without purpose. They’re the start of on a new compact between Philadelphians and their mayor. My administration is determined to gather community input on the dire budget choices facing this city. Never before has an administration reached out to the public so early in the budget process.
Last year in 8 town hall meetings, I heard loud and clear the displeasure of some Philadelphians as we closed a billion-dollar budget gap. Sadly, the recession has only deepened and the cost to city government is a second billion-dollar gap that must be closed in the next budget and Five-Year Plan.
To secure our city’s future, we must make some very tough choices that preserve our smartest investments of your hard-earned tax dollars. And frankly, there is no avoiding that we face a depth of sacrifice not seen since the 1940s.
Good citizens pay their taxes, vote and express themselves when they believe their government has gone off course. But true civic engagement doesn’t end there. You have to participate in the process if you want to influence the outcome. Nobody ever scored a touchdown sitting on the sidelines.
But to be actively engaged, you need information. That’s particularly true of decisions involving a far-reaching $4 billion annual city budget that involves every aspect of life in our city.
In the coming days, we’re offering two kinds of events that should be on every Philadelphians’ schedule:
On Feb. 12, 17 and 18, I will host televised Phillystat meetings with my senior staffers, focused on the heart of the city budget – from public safety to job creation. I’ll be asking tough questions about their ideas for closing our budget gap. Should we close a library or reduce hours? Do we minimize the reductions in the police department but dramatically cut back on street resurfacing? Do we shut fire companies or raise taxes? These important meetings will air after the meetings on Channel 64 at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.
And then on Feb. 12, 18, 19 and 23, Philadelphians can come together to use the data my budget team has developed to make the hard choices in community budget workshops. Participants will have to balance not just one or two interests but the hundreds that confront city government every day. Their choices will become valuable data for me and my staff as we put together a budget proposal that I will deliver to City Council on March 19.
As we struggle together to rebalance the city’s income and expenditures, I will be relying on our city’s greatest asset – the people of Philadelphia. In the coming months and years, we all face major sacrifices, but I also believe this process will bring us closer together.
A year ago, I called on Philadelphians to give back to their communities, to volunteer in Town Watch, at our libraries and schools, at our rec centers and other neighborhood programs. More than ever we’ll need Philadelphians to volunteer their time – first by participating in the most important budget process in memory and then by giving your time and energy to the city we all love.
In a year or maybe two, we will work our way out of this national economic crisis. I don’t yet know what our budget plan will be, but I promise that your mayor, the guy from West Philly who studied at the Cobbs Creek branch library, who played at the Sherwood Rec Center and who ran around Black Oak Park, who loves the only city he’s ever lived in, will be looking out for you.
We’ll be a stronger city because we’re a city of caring people who have turned to each other in warm embrace, rolled up our sleeves and taken care of our business. So, come on Philadelphia, let’s work together.