Dawkins addresses community concerns at town hall

Topics included legislative priorities in 2018, Philadelphia’s upcoming local school board, Mayor Jim Kenney’s budget proposal and parking issues in Frankford.

Talk of the town: State Rep. Jason Dawkins held a town hall meeting at the Second Baptist Church, 1801 Meadow St., last Tuesday. JOHN COLE/TIMES PHOTO

State Rep. Jason Dawkins last week held a town hall meeting at the Second Baptist Church, 1801 Meadow St., to discuss legislative priorities in 2018, Philadelphia’s upcoming local school board, Mayor Jim Kenney’s budget proposal, parking issues in Frankford and other developing issues.

Earlier this month, Mayor Kenney delivered his third annual budget address in which he detailed his plans for the upcoming fiscal year. The big takeaway from Kenney’s address was his call for a 6-percent property tax increase. The money would go toward funding the School District of Philadelphia.

Dawkins, at a previous town hall held in January, addressed his eagerness for a change to be made, but remained skeptical of the funding for Philadelphia regaining local control of its public school district. Now that Kenney has detailed his plan for Philadelphians to fund the school district, Dawkins expressed his disapproval of the budget proposal.

“I, for one, was not a fan,” said Dawkins about the proposed property tax increase to fund schools. “And the reason I wasn’t a fan was because we haven’t had a longer discussion around what is going to be the impact of the citizens of Philadelphia taking back the school district. This is a conversation that probably should have happened before we decided to get rid of the SRC, in my opinion.”

Dawkins laid out a couple of possible alternatives to the property tax increase to properly fund the school district.

“Now we have to figure out the harder discussion of how we pay for it,” said Dawkins.

Dawkins was sympathetic toward those who pay their taxes on time and first thinks the city should address those who do not.

“In my opinion, I think we need to look at A: those who are delinquent in their taxes,” Dawkins said. “Before you go collecting from those who always pay, let’s try to collect from those who never pay.”

Dawkins’ second suggestion revolved around altering or eliminating the 10-year tax abatement for Philadelphia homeowners and developers.

“Secondly, we have to kind of look at some of these tax breaks that we’re offering to new development and contractors, those who can afford to pay their fair share. Because, I or you, or most folks in this room won’t qualify for a 10-year abatement on our homes that we currently own,” said Dawkins. “Therefore, we need to look at why are we still offering a 10-year abatement and we’re raising taxes? Either we shorten that abatement, or we eliminate that abatement. In my sentiment, I think you eliminate it.”

Those in favor of the 10-year tax abatement believe it has encouraged people to move into the city, but Dawkins believes eliminating the tax would not result in an exodus of citizens.

“We have developed the city of Philadelphia in a way, I believe it’s an international city,” Dawkins said. “I do not believe that (everyone) is leaving, so the fear is you get rid of the abatement and everyone’s going to pack up and go, I doubt it.”

A 13-member nominating panel was responsible for recommending 27 candidates for the upcoming school board. Kenney has asked for some more recommendations and will select nine to be on the school board. Those who were considered for the panel had to be at least 18 years of age and a resident of Philadelphia for at least the previous year.

A couple of things disturbed Dawkins about the current 27 candidates for the panel.

“One of the things that stood out to me, there was no one selected on the 27 list that was a low-income parent,” said Dawkins. “When you think of the city’s school system, who has the biggest complaint? The low-income parent…..If that person is not represented on this board, where are we going? And that is a real question.”

Dawkins believes those candidates remaining have “great credentials,” but believes it doesn’t accurately represent the average parent of a public school student.

“Someone on that list should have probably been a father, who potentially doesn’t have a degree, may work in a dead-end job here and there….because I think they have a different perspective on where education should go,” Dawkins suggested. “Or someone with a criminal background, so they can provide a different insight.”

Dawkins was excited to report on a couple of developments in the district that he believes will greatly benefit his constituents.

Earlier this month, a new ShopRite opened its doors at 5597 Tulip St.

“That was a huge project,” said Dawkins. “We worked on that back in 2012. It was a project that went through a lot of ups and downs, but we were finally able to secure that location. It was considered a food desert for this ZIP code.”

Dawkins also discussed the anticipated investment from the Salvation Army into the district once again. He stated that the Salvation Army left the community about 10 years ago, but the group regrets this decision.

“In their words, one of the worst mistakes they ever made was leaving this community,” said Dawkins.

Dawkins is currently holding a series called “Apprenticeship Prep with the Rep” that welcomes local union leaders to his office to detail the union’s apprenticeship program. He has held two meetings thus far, with March 15 and March 19 from 6–7 PM taking place at his district office, 4667 Paul St.

Members of the community also expressed concern over various parking issues. Dawkins reassured that changes are on the horizon. Dawkins stated that cars will be towed that should not be there and permit parking will come to the neighborhood.

The first year will be $35 per car, and $20 per car each year after.

“We want to create safe parking zones so we don’t have abandoned vehicles in front of houses,” Dawkins said. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com