Philadelphia city councilors announced a “historic” anti-violence funding deal – a package of expenses that appears to include restored funds for parks and libraries – ahead of a final budget deal with Mayor Jim Kenney.
“This paradigm shift from an investment perspective includes youth employment, trauma support, curfews, [the] Victim advocacy [and] Police oversight to make sure we don’t keep losing more and more young people, ”City Councilor Kenyatta Johnson said at a brief press conference at City Hall to announce the deal. “This is a comprehensive approach with which we are tackling this problem.”
However, exact details on the deal were still rare late Thursday as budget talks dragged on.
Kenney’s initial budget proposal was $ 34 million to finance violence prevention. But council members later rallied to call for $ 100 million in funding, citing the city’s soaring homicide rate – which dwarfed the total death toll for all of 2014 that month. At Thursday’s event, Councilor Kenyatta Johnson described an even broader anti-violence plan – $ 155 million.
However, Joe Grace, a spokesman for Council President Darrell Clarke, later clarified that that figure included $ 87 million in existing funding and $ 68.3 million in new funding.
Yvetta Hill-Robinson, of the Friends of the Overbrook Park Library, joined other library supporters on Wednesday in calling for the city council to restore and increase funding for the Philadelphia Free Library. (Abdul R. Sulayman / The Philadelphia Tribune)
Free library supporters are calling for a $ 15 million budget increase
Philadelphia Free Library supporters are calling on the Kenney Administration and City Council to restore and increase funding for the 54-branch system.
A draft anti-violence plan received from WHYY News outlined some of the planned spending. Thirty million appears to be earmarked by the Kenney administration for 911 call centers, mental health co-response programs, violent intervention, and employment programs. That figure also appears to include an undisclosed amount of restored funding for the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Free Library of Philadelphia, both of which saw budget cuts during the pandemic.
US $ 49 million has been allocated to community organizations for “healing, prevention, safe haven and community empowerment” as well as after-school and summer programs. $ 7.1 million would be paid for job training and development through the Department of Commerce, while another $ 1.5 million would create two “curfew centers” that house unsupervised teenagers until one parent or parent or legal guardian picks them up.
At the press event, members described a far-reaching approach to anti-violence. Councilor Curtis Jones outlined other initiatives, from funding surveillance cameras in recreational centers to equipping city murder detectives with cell phones. (When asked if the police would get more money, Jones said “pretty much no”.)
Johnson described the overall plan as a mix of traditional prevention efforts and other efforts that could address violence holistically.
“We are focused on making sure we invest in violence prevention initiatives and, most importantly, opportunities for our young people as this is the number one issue in relation to this budget process,” said Johnson.
But it was unclear at press time where any of the remaining funds would go – or exactly what Kenney had agreed to.
An administration spokesman did not immediately give an opinion.
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An agreement is still pending on the remainder of Kenney’s $ 5.2 billion budget. The operating budget was originally supposed to be voted on last Thursday, but intensive negotiations have brought the vote to a standstill three times since last week.
Disputes over proposed tax cuts, the use of federal stimulus funds, and levels of funding for anti-violence programs continue to delay the vote. Kenney and the city council are also facing public anger over the inclusion of various tax cuts in the budget as the city continues to suffer economic losses from the pandemic shutdowns.
One of those tax cuts included councilor Cherelle Parker’s parking tax cut in exchange for an employment contract to improve wages and benefits. However, he died in committee earlier this week because not enough operators had signed the agreement.
The negotiations and a final vote on the operating budget and the revenue package are expected to last into the evening.
This story originally appeared on WHYY.org.