City Councilman Allan Domb discusses ways to fix the city’s money concerns.
By City Councilman Allan Domb
Since taking office two years ago, my core mission in City Council has been to help Philadelphia collect delinquent taxes, improve our schools, broaden our tax base and attract businesses to the city.
I am committed to these goals, and I hope in the new year that Mayor Kenney and his administration and my colleagues on Council will commit to several common-sense solutions that will help collect monies the city is owed.
Collect delinquent real estate taxes
As a city, we’ve long struggled to collect on delinquent property taxes. We’ve made positive strides in recent years. But, the city has hundreds of millions outstanding in delinquent taxes and forgoes tens of millions of new dollars every year. We are around 93–94 percent compliant, but we should be at 98–99 percent, comparable to other major cities.
Failure to collect this money is not fair to our taxpayers and especially to our school students. Each additional percentage of tax collection means about $11 million to $12 million, 55 percent of which goes to the School District of Philadelphia, which is facing a deficit of $1 billion over the next five years. I introduced legislation in November to securitize our tax liens to help us accomplish increased collection.
Uncover efficiencies in the prisons system
There are significant financial savings — potentially $50 million — that we can achieve in our prisons system. While we make positive strides to reduce our prison population, somehow our costs keep rising.
We have reduced our population by 18 percent since July 2015; however, our prisons budget increased by nearly $7 million during that time. With a goal to reduce the overall population by 34 percent over a three-year period, we must work to find savings.
We also need to better negotiate contracts with outside companies that provide services on behalf of the city, reduce overtime costs that cause added stress on the balance sheet and continue to work on bail reform.
Achieve savings in city departments
We need to fully commit to zero-based budgeting in order to stop the incremental increases that each department applies for each year, and instead ask them to justify every expense. This would eliminate filling vacancies or budgeting for vacancies that never get filled.
In 1970, Philadelphia’s population was nearly 2.1 million people and there were 28,000 city employees. In 2018, there are 1.5 million people and 27,000 city employees. With a 25-percent reduction in population, we should be able to adjust our employment levels, especially with advances in technology. Departments should no longer budget for vacancies that have gone unfilled for years. Those positions should be eliminated. Leaving those positions on the books does nothing to encourage fiscal responsibility. The only jobs where we should see an increase in hiring are public safety workers.
Blockchaining, a system of securing, growing and sharing data, could be used by the city to eliminate redundancy and mistakes, making each department more efficient in record keeping. Each department could also become more efficient by the natural attrition of employees.
We need to look at our city licenses and fees structure. Many of these fees have not been changed for decades, and we should make sure they are up to date in terms of the costs associated with the services. We must also make sure they are being paid and that any enforcement of fees is being maintained, especially when it may concern public safety.
Teach computer science and financial literacy K-12
Philadelphia is uniquely positioned to grow our tech community — growth in millennial population, affordable living, access to talent, etc. According to a recent report from the Economy League, approximately 25 percent of net job growth in the region over the last 15 years was in the tech industry. But for our startup and technology companies, we need to provide the necessary support to help them grow. We are among the most diverse cities in our nation, and our tech workforce should reflect that diversity as well. We have an opportunity to do so by teaching computer science in our public schools and encouraging students to pursue this potential line of work. There are great organizations teaching coding to young people in Philadelphia. Coded by Kids is one of them. I have committed to personally donating $60,000 to sponsor Coded by Kids instruction at four local high schools over the next three years.
I would like to make sure financial literacy is taught in our schools. A 2015 national survey showed that 84 percent of teenagers look to their parents to learn money management, yet one in three parents said they do not discuss money with their children. We should teach daily budgeting skills, savings and planning habits, credit resources and benefits and investment opportunities, among other topics.
We can equip our teachers and professionals with the resources necessary to assist them with the instructional elements in order for the lessons to be successful and achieve positive outcomes. School district Superintendent William Hite committed to exploring bringing financial literacy programs to 10 high schools throughout the city. I look forward to working together to make financial literacy programs a reality for all our school students. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia offers a great training program for teachers to be able to teach financial literacy to their students. I sponsored teachers to be trained in these courses last year, and will gladly sponsor more this year.
My hope for the new year is that, as a city, we work together to find long-term solutions, not short-term bandages, to fix the many problems we face. Our responsibility is to do what is right, not just what is easy. ••