What to expect when Philly budget hearings begin in City Council

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia City Council begins hearings on the FY2020 budget Monday. The hearings tend to stretch on for weeks and often appear to be primarily an opportunity for council members to browbeat administration officials.

Council president Darrell Clarke, though, set a collegial tone in announcing the hearings.

“Philadelphia is well on the path to long-term fiscal stability, thanks to years of responsible budget-making and reforms, particularly those implemented by the Board of Pensions,” he said in an email.

He said council’s priority this year is exploring how city departments are working to reduce poverty in their “daily work and long-term strategies.”

“We are obligated to now make even bolder investments in policies and programs, including those detailed in our Narrowing the Gap report, that will make meaningful, sustainable reductions in poverty,” Clarke said.

Council is also expected to continue its jeremiad on the Office of Property Assessment, who’s admittedly flawed valuations, produced sticker shock for many homeowners.

They also will likely be unhappy with savings in the prisons department. The budget has gone down by $10 million, despite rising costs for food and health care. Some council members say a 40 percent reduction in the jail population should mean more savings.

In a year when all but two council members are running for re-election, questioning could be even more intense than last year when the city treasurer was grilled so relentlessly for failing to reconcile six of the city’s 77 accounts, leading to a “missing” $33 million.

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown later scolded her colleagues for “scapegoating” the Treasurer. A forensic audit “found” all but about $600,000 of the missing money.

For all the weeks of questioning, council’s ability to change the budget is limited. The lion’s share of the budget is fixed costs such as payroll and pensions. Change takes place at the margins.

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