Kenney presents $5 billion budget proposal with no tax increases

Mayor Jim Kenney handed City Council a budget last week with no tax increases and investments in several areas, including a new Northeast Philadelphia health center.

Mayor Jim Kenney speaks Thursday during his budget address to City Council. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

Mayor Jim Kenney presented his $5 billion budget and five-year plan to City Council on Thursday, and it included investments in several areas, including for a new city health center in the Northeast.

Perhaps most importantly, Kenney’s plan did not include any tax increases, much to the appreciation of some Council members.

“What I usually listen for is taxes. There’s no taxes proposed, so it’s a good start,” 10th District Councilman Brian O’Neill said. “I think it’s always nice in a reelection year when there’s no taxes in the budget that I have to vote against.”

“We have another year here where there’s no proposed property taxes,” Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon said. “Two years in a row where Council stepped up and said we’re not going to do it.”

From a Northeast Philadelphia perspective, Kenney’s budget address included several highlights, including a new health center in the Lower Northeast, a new facility for 2nd Police District and a significant renovation to the 15th Police District station.

James Garrow, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said the city is still in the early stages of planning for the new center. It would be in addition to the city-operated Health Center 10 at 2230 Cottman Ave.

“We’re excited to start this process, and we acknowledge that it will be a long process,” Garrow said in an email. “As we work out the details, we’ll have a better understanding of a timeline and potential location, aside from it being placed in the lower Northeast.”

A health department report published in October identified several neighborhoods in the Northeast, including Lawncrest, Castor Gardens, Oxford Circle, Wissinoming, Tacony and Frankford, as primary care health shortage areas.

There are 52 community health centers in the city that serve people without insurance or citizenship, but Health Center 10 is currently the only one in the Northeast.

Kenney’s budget also incorporates money for the Police Department to hire 50 more officers, and his long-term spending plan includes a $30 million investment in violence prevention programs and funding for the Fire Department to reopen seven companies.

“The investments in our police and fire are extremely significant,” Henon said.

Free Library of Philadelphia advocates, who gathered for a rally and news conference before Kenney’s speech, were not happy with the mayor’s budget proposal.

A group called Friends of the Free Library, which has been organizing since Saturday hours were cut at some branches in 2018, called for the city to increase the library’s budget by $15 million. Kenney’s plan includes a jump of about $2.5 million.

“We asked for a lifeline, and what we were given is grossly insufficient,” Friends of the Free Library said in a statement. “The city’s attempts thus far to squeeze better outcomes out of a starved system is merely shifting the deck chairs on the titanic.”

In his budget address, Kenney said his budget would allow all libraries to provide six-day service.

Kenney’s five-year plan sets aside $1.2 billion for the School District of Philadelphia, and his proposed capital program includes more than $200 million for the streets department to repave and repair roads over a six-year period.

The mayor’s proposed budget also incorporates $2.3 million for street sweeping. A pilot program will be launched this spring in six neighborhoods, Kenney said, though the city hasn’t announced which ones yet.

“Next spring, we will continue to explore the program, and, where possible, ask residents to move their cars as we work to keep the streets clean,” he said.

City Council will now consider the budget and hold hearings before the 2020 fiscal year begins on July 1. ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jtomczuk@newspapermediagroup.com