City Council passes budget, other changes, spars on hiring rule

City Council
Melissa Mitman

City Council, in its final meeting until September, on Thursday approved a litany of legislation, including a $5.6 billion municipal budget, but the most contentious vote may have been a proposed change to the city’s hiring procedures.

The bill, pushed by Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson, would grant a preference for Civil Service jobs to any applicant who recently graduated from a career and technical education program in the School District of Philadelphia.

Advocates for veterans spoke in opposition to the change, saying it would dilute a similar benefit for people who served in the military. Veterans have 10 points added to their Civil Service score; CTE graduates would have 5 points.

Gilmore Richardson accused Councilmember David Oh, who served in the military, of spreading misinformation about her legislation and “siccing” veterans on her.

“I also see that Councilmember Oh would like to make a comment, but Councilmember Oh, you can also return my phone call,” Gilmore Richardson said during the virtual session. “You can also reply to the email, which you have not done.”

The legislation was amended last week to stipulate that CTE students would not receive the bonus points if veterans apply for the same job, she added.

Oh denied that he misrepresented her bill and said he was also worried that the change would create an uneven playing field for non-veterans.

Council adopted the measure, with members Cindy Bass, Mike Driscoll and Brian O’Neill in opposition, along with Oh.

In the end, voters will decide. Since the bill called for a city charter change, it will appear as a ballot question, likely in November.

Budget, tax cuts pass

Having reached a budget deal with Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration last week, Council gave final approval to a tax-and-spend plan aimed at providing relief to homeowners stung by recent property reassessments.

The Homestead Exemption, which reduces the taxable value of owner-occupied properties, will be raised from $45,000 to $80,000, and the Longtime Owner Occupants Program had its budget increased by more than $10 million.

Perhaps more controversially, the budget legislation also reduced the wage tax — from 3.84% to 3.79% for residents — and the business net income tax, to 5.99% from 6.2%.

City Hall’s three most progressive members — Kendra Brooks, Helen Gym and Jamie Gauthier — voted against the wage and business tax cuts.

Brooks, in a statement, said the tax breaks prioritized the “bottom lines of big businesses and the ultra-rich over working people” and would hurt funding for the school district in the long run.

Council did not have to sacrifice their spending priorities to offset the cuts, thanks to much higher than expected revenues this year.

Curfews, noise and the school board

Among the other bills passed Thursday was a change to the city’s curfew laws.

The curfew for 16 and 17 year olds was changed from midnight to 10 p.m. in an effort to prevent gun violence during the months of the year that typically have the highest number of shootings, the bill’s sponsor, Gilmore Richardson, said.

In September, the curfew for the age group will revert to midnight. Times for younger children — 10 p.m. for 14 and 15 year olds and 9:30 p.m. for 13 and under — will remain the same.

Council also approved legislation to install noise radars to catch loud vehicles. Similar to the city’s red-light sensors, cameras would snap photos of the offender’s license plate and mail them a ticket.

The sensors will be triggered when a noise, whether it be music or a modified muffler, raises the background sound level by five decibels, as measured from 25 feet away. Violators would be fined $100.

After delaying a vote last week, Council approved Kenney’s two nominations to the Board of Education, Sarah-Ashley Andrews and Chau Wing Lam.

Lawmakers put off a decision when Councilmember Isaiah Thomas expressed dissatisfaction with the Board, claiming it has been unresponsive. Thomas is advocating for a hybrid Board with elected and appointed positions.

Kenney, in a statement Thursday, said he was proud to select Andrews and Lam, adding that Philadelphia is “at a critical point in our schools’ progress,” with new Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. taking the reins.

Farewells?

Several Council members hinted that they may not be back in the fall, with pseudo-campaign speeches and farewells.

Multiple are rumored to be interested in running for mayor next year, which would require them to resign.

Allan Domb gave more than a hint, saying, “This could be the last time I speak before City Council in my current position,” before launching into a monologue about leadership. He went on to say that Philadelphia deserves “a leader who actually wants the job,” a clear shot at Kenney.

Leadership was also brought up by Councilmembers Derek Green and Maria Quinones Sanchez, who are said to be eyeing a run.

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