Council continues to push Kenney on gun violence budget

Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier speaks Tuesday, June 1, 2021 at a news conference.
Jack Tomczuk

More Council members than it takes to override Mayor Jim Kenney’s veto sent him a letter Friday informing him of their plan to add $100 million to the city’s anti-violence budget.

Citing skyrocketing homicide and shooting numbers, their plan is to invest the money in resources and services, particularly in neighborhoods most affected by the violence.

“This year threatens to be the bloodiest in our beloved city’s history,” said the letter, signed by 13 members. “No place is safe. Not our streets, not our parks, not our schools, not our workplaces, not even our homes.”

Last week, a group led by Councilwoman Helen Gym called on Kenney to use $50 million from the federal American Rescue Plan for initiatives aimed at curbing the violence among young people.

It’s unclear where Kenney stands on the issue. He has not responded to the letter, Deana Gamble, a spokesperson for the mayor, said Monday.

Kenney’s spending proposal includes nearly $36 million for non-police anti-violence programs, about double what is being spent during the current budget year.

Notably absent from the letter was Council President Darrell Clarke, who, along with other Council leaders, usually hashes out the details of the budget behind the scenes with Kenney and his top deputies.

The sides must reach a deal before July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

“When a budget agreement is reached with the administration, there will be much more to discuss then, on violence prevention and other issues,” Joe Grace, Clarke’s spokesperson, said.

Grace pointed to an April anti-violence plan put forth by Council leaders that focused on job creation, community investments and efforts to strengthen gun laws.

Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier, who helped write the letter, said Kenney’s proposed spending doesn’t go far enough in addressing the violence, particularly in light of the $1.4 billion windfall from Washington.

“This is a time for us to be bold, both because of the scope of the problem and because we have flexible resources at our disposal to meet it,” she told Metro.

Through Sunday, 228 people had been killed in the city in 2021, a 33% increase over this time last year, according to police data.

Gauthier said the city should be putting serious dollars toward intervention and prevention, just like it has allocated for police, prisons and the courts for years.

In the plan laid out by the 13 Council members, the $100 million would be divided up into initiatives focused on violence prevention, healing, youth resources, employment and community groups.

The money would be used to provide stipends for youth attending non-violence programs; set up a mobile crisis unit in neighborhoods with high levels of violence; set up evening resource centers in crime hotspots; and guarantee youth employment in certain neighborhoods, among other initiatives.

In addition, the letter says, recreation centers and library branches would be able to open seven days a week with expanded hours.

“We’ve never invested in a meaningful way, I would say, in these types of measures,” Gauthier said.

There would also be a City Council fund dedicated to gun violence to allow for “nimble appropriations,” according to the document.

Council is scheduled to discuss all aspects of the next fiscal year’s budget at a hearing Tuesday morning.

“We have a supermajority of Council that is serious about this, and so we do have some power behind us and behind this idea,” Gauthier said.


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