Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has officially started the budget season with the release of a proposed spending plan. The big question is how different it will be after months of public hearings in City Council.
The proposal would add about 600 full-time positions to the current budget, bringing the city’s general fund workforce to about 23,400.
He says the service increases can be paid for through the normal growth in city taxes and are relatively small compared with the size of the city budget — over $4.3 billion.
The plan includes small reductions in city wage and business taxes and no increase in other taxes, though the controversial sweetened-beverage tax is still in place and under legal challenge.
Kenney also says nearly $2 million will be spent to combat the opioid and heroin epidemic.
“While the City has already created 500 additional methadone treatment slots, we must do more,” he said. “We are proposing to expand the distribution of naloxone to the 10,000 Philadelphians and their families at risk for overdose, particularly in the Fairhill- Kensington area.
The mayor added the city will improve road safety, re-pave more streets and add more men and women to the fire department.
“To address these challenges, we ask Council to approve additional funds for staffing and training, as well as improvements to aging firehouses and outdated equipment,” he said.
Reaction from Council was positive. Councilman Curtis Jones says it’s far better than a few years ago when budgets depended on property tax increases and job cuts.
“We have moved down the road we are in a lot better position,” Jones said. “We don’t have everything we want but we have a lot more than what we had.”
Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez says the spending blueprint clearly shows Kenney is listening to his former colleagues on City Council.
“I think that it is a responsible budget, I think some of the staff additions are in places we have identified in council as priority areas,” she said.
The big unknown is the sweetened beverage tax Kenney signed last year and took effect in January. A court challenge is still pending.
Workers from the soda industry picketed outside City Hall and Kenney’s budget would need significant changes if the tax gets overturned.