Nutter budget would bolster L&I, expand vacant property unit

In his final budget proposal as mayor, Michael Nutter is recommending a $5.5 million increase for the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the agency responsible for enforcing the building and zoning codes, maintaining building safety, and issuing various licenses and permits.

The proposal, which is meant to advance a number of recommendations of the Special Independent Advisory Commission that Nutter appointed after a building collapse killed six people at 22nd and Market streets in 2013, would represent an increase of 9 percent in the Department’s budget. If approved by City Council, the new funds would allow L&I to hire 43 new employees in the next fiscal year, FY16, and an additional 58 employees by FY18. Nutter said on Thursday that the proposal would increase L&I’s workforce by 20 percent over three years.

The proposal would continue the restoration of funding to the perennially troubled department, which lost staff and resources throughout the recession that marked Nutter’s first term in office. It continues an additional $3 million dedicated to the Department last year for the demolition of dangerous buildings. In cooperation with the new Building Safety Oversight Board, L&I selected which of the advisory commission’s recommendations could be implemented in the next fiscal year, and helped establish a three-year implementation plan for the remaining recommendations.

Under the terms of the proposal, the Department will hire 10 new employees to implement a new vacant-property management plan. The unit would be charged with assembling and distributing vacant-property data to various city agencies in order to help eliminate blight and improve building safety. Nutter said that in addition to public-safety improvements, the plan would help reduce inspection costs and increase revenues from licenses and permits.

Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez, who chairs Council’s L&I Committee, praised the budget proposal on Thursday.

“These funds will allow us to obtain Philadelphia’s first-ever comprehensive photographic inventory of vacant properties,” Sánchez, who also served on the Special Independent Advisory Commission, said in a press release. “… With the data from this inventory, we will be able to fully assess needs and prioritize our enforcement efforts to make sure that we know about hazardous buildings before a tragic collapse or fire.”

The recommendations come from the advisory commission’s report, “Safety First and Foremost.” They were refined in a second report, “2015 Plan for a Safer City,” completed by a steering committee formed by Nutter.

In addition to the vacant-property unit, the FY16 budget proposal includes funding for:

  • Four electrical inspectors

  • One crane inspector

  • Four engineers with experience in structural, mechanical, and electrical engineering

  • Six plumbing inspectors

  • Eight employees for a new Fire Prevention Unit, which will coordinate fire-prevention efforts between L&I and the Fire Department. This unit is scheduled to grow to 15 employees by Fiscal Year 2018.

The budget also includes funding for 24 new building inspectors and an eight-member Business Compliance Unit in Fiscal Year 2017.

Council President Darrell Clarke also applauded the proposed investment in L&I, though he was more circumspect about a proposed 10-percent increase in the property-tax rate aimed at increasing funding for public schools.

“We cannot adequately safeguard the public without eyes in our neighborhoods and on our blocks, period,” Clarke said in a statement sent to reporters. “Adding 101 full-time personnel by Fiscal Year 2018 will ensure greater compliance with City regulations and strengthen public safety.”

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