Highlights from Philadelphia City Council budget hearing at Lincoln High School

With the exception of one outburst from the audience early on about Philadelphia City Council members not listening closely enough to public testimony, Monday night’s city budget hearing at Lincoln High School was otherwise calm. Raised voices were saved mostly for support for those pleading with Council for better services and more funding.

The meeting, one of a handful around the city designed to bring public budget testimony to those who can’t make it to Council chambers on a weekday afternoon, was led by Council President Darrell Clarke, D-5th. He was joined by Republican Councilmen at-large Denny O’Brien and David Oh, Councilmen Bobby Henon, D-6th; and Mark Squilla, D-1st; and Councilwoman Cindy Bass, D-8th. All but Clarke are first-term council members.

Testimony was restricted to 15 ordinances, and those who signed up to testify were given two minutes each to make their case. Below are some highlights from the 90-minute hearing.

Labor Unions

The first testimony of the evening came from Pa. Rep. Mark Cohen, D-202nd. Among other topics he addressed, Cohen  told Council there is “not adequate money in this proposal for labor contracts.”

He was followed later by District Council 47 President Cathy Scott and Local 2186 President Mike Walsh. Scott focused on a study done by a Temple University economics professor that found 42 percent of AFSCME city workers are living below the poverty line. Walsh called union workers’ current circumstances a “deceitful attack on a coalition that has fought to maintain community services.”

Fire Department

Theresa Garvin was the lone person to testify about Mayor Michael Nutter’s relationship with the Philadelphia Fire Department, though she was not without support. Garvin’s speech on behalf of the PFD Families Association, which reinforced a recent letter to the editor published on NEast Philly, was met with cheers, applause and responses from several members of Council.

“It takes an incredible amount of courage to run into a burning building,” Bass said of the city’s firefighters, while Henon told Garvin, “the [Nutter] administration has shown a lack of respect for first responders.”

Health care

Several people testified to the need for better public health care in the Northeast, citing the overwhelmed Health Center #10 at 2230, Cottman Ave. The Northeast’s only public health center has a months-long wait for appointments.

“I am watching people die on a daily basis right before my eyes,” said Trey Alexander of Healthy Philadelphia and the Institute for Community Justice. Nurse and midwife Vivian Lowenstein also called on Council to prioritize maternity service in Philadelphia, garnering a response from Bass that it was “incredibly difficult to find quality maternity care in Philadelphia” when she had a baby three years ago.

Criminal Justice

Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby was the first, but not the last, to bring up criminal justice and safety, asking Council to “re-address hiring practices” to help get more applicants to the Police Academy through the program. The bottom line? “Put more police on the street.”

He was followed by several probation and juvenile probation officers who want more funding and more officers — resources they say can be found in nearby counties, which pull juvenile probation officers away from Philadelphia.

Schools

Last but certainly not least, came passionate testimony from schools advocates, including the Lincoln High School nurse Peg Devine and Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush Principal Jessica Brown.

“The children of Philadelphia deserve better,” Devine said, while Brown cited cuts the School District of Philadelphia’s “doomsday budget” will bring to her high-performing school in the Far Northeast.

“How,” asked teacher Shannon Howser as she listed school budget cuts, “do we function and provide for these students?”

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