Tasco set to lose some clout, but gain DROP dollars

When Ninth District Councilwoman Marian Tasco returns for a seventh term on Philadelphia City Council next week, she won’t be the powerhouse she once was. But she may be quite a bit wealthier, thanks to a brief retirement that will qualify her for a controversial DROP payment.

Tasco’s focus, she said in a recent interview, will not be on Council power plays, but on her constituents’ quality-of-life concerns.

Bread-and-butter issues like makign repiars to alleys were the No. 1 thing Tasco heard about from voters in the last election, she said during a recent interview.

The former majority leader said, however, that she will not run for any Council leadership positions—president, majority leader or majority whip—which play key roles in committee assignmenets and the legislative track for bills.

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It had been speculated that Tasco would make another push for Council president, a post she sought but lost to Anna Verna in 1998. But Darrell Clarke, the Fifth District councilman, lined up the votes for Council’s top leadership spot.

“I think it is important for the [Council] president to have a new team that he or she is comfortable with,” she said, alluding to Clarke, who is expected to be voted president when Council is sworn in on Monday.

Did DROP cost Tasco support?

Backed by Mayor Michael Nutter, Tasco was considered a front-runner for president. Shortly after the November election, though, it became apparent she didn’t have enough Council votes to win.

“At the end of the day, you reach a point where you say, ‘Do I have the ability to obtain nine votes, or don’t I,’ and I looked at it and I decided that I was not going to pursue it,” Tasco said.

In fact, it seems Tasco decided to “retire.”

Well, not exactly.

The Daily News’ “Philly Clout” column today reported she plans to submit retirement paperwork Friday to collect the $487,057 payment due her under DROP, the Deferred Retirement Option Plan. Then she’ll “unretire” on Monday to take her seat on the new Council.  

DROP—or more precisely, the eligibility of Council members for a program originally intended for the city’s uniformed and civil service personnel—became a big issue for many voters in the last election.

But not with Tasco’s colleagues, she said: “In my discussion with Council members in trying to gain their support, it was not an issue.”

Tasco’s lack of concern about the negative buzz surrounding DROP is unusual. Five DROP-enrolled councilmembers chose not to seek re-election, and heavily favored Councilman Frank Rizzo lost in the Republican primary.

Tasco won re-election in a walk despite being one of the program’s strongest defenders.

Critics of the retirement program cite a 2010 Boston College study that found Philadelphia’s DROP program cost the city $258 million in extra pension costs over a decade. In September, Council overrode Nutter’s veto to implement Tasco’s plan to tweak DROP to reduce its cost to the city.

Under DROP rules, Tasco is required to retire for one day this month to collect that retirement incentive payout of nearly a half million. Having been reelected, though, she can return as a city employee eligible for a $8,902 monthly pension when she leaves Council.

Asked how she planned to enjoy her brief retirement, Tasco said “I’m not talking about that.” 

The business of the Ninth

Tasco’s district covers parts of North, Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia, which includes the neighborhoods of Cedarbrook, East and West Oak Lanes, Logan, Olney, Lawncrest, Fern Rock, Melrose Park, Crescentville, and Summerdale

On a district level, Tasco says one of the major issues that needs more attention is getting neighbors to share the cost of repairing the alleys behind their homes.

“The upkeep and repair is the responsibility of the homeowners,” she said, “but through the years it’s been difficult to get everyone who lives near that driveway to participate in terms of the financial responsibility.”

One example of this she said is a crumbling retaining wall.

“Some of the neighbors have put up the money, but they can’t get other neighbors to participate,” Tasco said.

In this case, Tasco said her staff is looking into whether some Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI) money can be used to help cover some of the costs despite the fact that NTI’s activities were halted by Mayor Nutter in 2009 after concerns were raised about how money was used.

She said sometimes all it takes to get things resolved is allowing the city to help mediate between neighbors. The result, in many instances, has been to get all of the neighbors to contribute to a fund to pay for repairs.

Top issues for Council

As for what some of the big issues she and the rest of Council will face this year, Tasco said three issues are likely to consume a lot of Council’s time. The biggest will likely be reforming the city’s property tax system.

“That’s going to be quite a discussion,” Tasco said.

Also, Council will consider lowering the city’s Business Privilege Tax, and finding other ways to attract more small businesses to the city. She said this last one should be an immediate concern for Council in the coming year.

“We need jobs for our people,” she said.

The other two—creating a more fair property tax formula and lowering business taxes—will help create more jobs over the long term, Tasco stated.

Having six new councilmembers and and a new president could change the effectiveness of both Council’s and Mayor Nutter’s abilities to get legislation passed. Tasco said she doesn’t know how this new chemistry will play out, but she hopes both sides will remember they are there to serve the people.

“The most imporant thing is that we all try to work together, because at the end of the day it is the future of the city that we are all responsible for,” she said.

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