City Hall: City Council Highlights for Sept. 26, 2019

City Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilmember Cindy Bass introduced a bill that prohibits firearms and other deadly weapons from Philadelphia recreation centers and playgrounds.

In a news release, Clarke’s office referenced a series of gun violence incidents that have occurred at city playgrounds and recreation facilities since the summer, including shootings at Finnegan Playground in Southwest Philadelphia, Baker Playground in Overbrook, and at a recent high school football game between Simon Gratz and Imhotep high schools in the Nicetown-Tioga section of the city.

The release said a total of 526 crimes, including 18 gun crimes, had been committed at city recreation facilities in 2018. Last year, two murders were committed at rec centers. So far this year in Philadelphia there has been 1,046 shootings and 1,296 arrests for illegal possession of firearms in 2019.

Bass said the bill was aimed at protecting the city’s most vulnerable asset and resource, its children.

“This bill has the potential to truly make a difference and remove the fear that many feel of gun violence in our communities,” Bass said. “We know that gun violence is a health issue.”

Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilmember Cindy Bass discuss banning weapons from city playgrounds and recreation facilities.

Councilmember Allan Domb introduced a bill to provide wage tax relief for families living in poverty. The bill will affect about 60,000 households living in poverty, allowing them to be reimbursed annually for the amount of the wage tax they pay to the City.

According to a news release issued by Domb’s office, starting next year the current reimbursement amount of half a percent would increase to 2.36%, which is the city’s portion of the wage tax rate, allowing a family of four earning an income of $34,250 to receive about $810 annually.

“We tax people who make less than $25,000 a year (at) 18.1%. It is the city wage tax that stands out as the biggest portion of why their taxes are so high,” Domb said. “People who make less than $25,000 can barely put food on the table. It makes no sense to be charging them wage tax.” 

After the meeting, Domb said the reimbursement would cost the city budget $42-44 million per year, but will be offset by the growth of the wage tax, which Domb said would be $80 million over the next three years.

If the bill is passed, residents would apply for the reimbursement, Domb said.

Councilman Al Taubenberger introduced a bill that could disqualify developers from receiving a ten-year tax abatement if they do not meet certain standards.

“Currently, the only disqualifying factor in the ten-year tax abatement is being delinquent on property taxes,” Taubenberger said. “(Developers) are often willfully neglectful to pull the necessary construction permits and licenses, and they misclassify their workers as 1099. independent contractors to avoid payroll taxes and pay workers in cash to avoid tax implications.”

Taubenberger said these unethical practices are tantamount to being tax delinquent, and developers who do not adhere to these standards should be disqualified from receiving the abatement. 

Bill 180936, introduced by Councilmember Blondel Reynolds-Brown, requires owners of housing units to test for lead-based coating in paint, passed unanimously.

During the public comment section of the meeting, George Donnelly, attorney at the Public Interest Law Center, said that Philadelphia is set to become a national leader in protecting children from lead poisoning.

“This bill is uniform, universal, and automatic in its enforcement mechanism,” Donnelly said. “And it’s going to ensure that landlords throughout the city are complying with lead-safe ordinance that we already have on the books.”

Susan Dinato, a Philadelphia landlord, said the current law already provides enough coverage and protection for children from lead, and that the new law reduces the quality and amount of affordable housing in the city.

“As landlords, we will not be able to operate in the city nor be able to afford to keep the housing in good repair,” Dinato said. “This money just lines the pockets of the contractors who will get to perform all of these tests.”

Councilmember David Oh introduced a bill to provide a tax credit for remediation of lead paint and other hazardous materials.

The bill would ensure that anyone who remediates a dwelling would be entitled to a full tax credit, dollar for dollar, against real estate taxes. 

“We want a safer environment,” Oh said. “But in reality, there are a lot of people who can’t afford to make those changes.

Bill 190505, sponsored by Reynolds-Brown, concerned the substitution of soda for milk, juice, or water in a children’s meal purchased at a restaurant, also passed unanimously.

Lawrence McGlynn is a recent graduate of Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he earned a Master’s in Journalism. For the next several months he will be reporting out of City Hall on various council and committee meetings, the city’s budget, and how these impact the daily lives of Philadelphians.

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