City Hall: City Council Week In Review for Oct. 7 – Oct. 11, 2019

Philadelphia City Council and its subcommittees approved and passed several pieces of legislation during the week of Oct. 7, 2019. It also held the inaugural meeting of the Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention.

Finance Committee

The Finance Committee of Philadelphia City Council approved two bills to be considered at the next general meeting of city council.

The first bill authorizes the city treasurer to deposit city funds in JPMorgan Chase bank.

The second bill authorizes the City to issue a series of general obligation bonds that would refund outstanding general obligation bond debt. This means the City of Philadelphia is essentially buying back past bond debt, and then issuing new bonds that have a more affordable rate. The value of the bonds is $1.5 billion. 

Because the city is not issuing new debt, a ballot measure is not required.

The bonds in question were issued between 2009 and 2019,

Councilmember Allan Domb asked City Treasurer Christian Dunbar what the annual savings would be in interest payments for this series of refinancing.

“I can only give you a snapshot at any given time,” Dunbar said. “For example, this potential transaction of 2013 A bonds should produce about 13% in savings.”

Dunbar said the city would see yearly savings over the course of the transaction, likely totaling $14 million.

Councilmember Cherelle Parker asked Dunbar how reducing the debt service costs on the general fund positively impacts the city and the credit rating with rating agencies.

“I think overall, it would be much like anyone’s personal financial situation,” Dunbar said. “The lower your debt, the better your credit and more creditworthy you are. When we go in front of the investors now, we’re seeing a historic demand for City of Philadelphia bonds.”

Dunbar said the city was in the best financial health it has been in decades.

After the meeting, Councilmember Jannie Blackwell said that the mayor’s office and other entities responsible for issuing the bonds have a very good understanding of when to do so.

“That’s usually pretty tight,” Blackwell said. “They don’t haphazardly do it. They will plan it specifically and talk about when they will issue them so that everybody will know.”

Councilmember David Oh’s student debt tax-refund bill was not advanced due to administration concerns over cost and accessibility.

The bill would have provided tax refunds of up to $1,500 for Philadelphia residents who had completed an undergraduate education within the previous five years.

“This bill may help these workers start families, buy homes, and continue to live in Philadelphia,” Oh said. “We can imagine the economic impact of this retention.”

Oh said he hopes to be able to bring the bill before a meeting of the Finance Committee before the end of the year.

Special Committee on Poverty

Formed in response to the Narrowing the Gap report last spring, the Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention held its first meeting Oct. 10, 2019.

Several presentations were part of the inaugural meeting of the Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention.

The committee will be comprised of three subcommittees focusing specifically on housing, jobs and education, and the social safety net.

The co-chairs of the committee, Councilmember Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Deputy Managing Director of Health and Human Services Eva Gladstein, Urban Affairs Coalition President Sharmain Matlock-Turner, and One Day At A Time President Mel Wells, have set a goal of moving 100,000 Philadelphians out of poverty by 2024.

Quinones-Sanchez said that goal is attainable if the recommendations of the committee receive the proper support.

“It will all be determined by the type of investment the administration is willing to make,” Quinones-Sanchez said.

The subcommittees will hold public hearings in November, and the full committee will hold a final meeting in December to review final recommendations.

City Council General Meeting

Several bills and resolutions were introduced at Council’s general meeting Oct. 10, 2019, including Councilmember David Oh’s authorizing the establishment of a special committee regarding child separation in Philadelphia, focusing on the actions of the Department of Human Services.

The resolution had vociferous support from the public attending the meeting, with many supporters testifying during the public comment section of the meeting.

The resolution passed unanimously after language calling for “investigations” into DHS’s practices was changed to “examinations.”

Councilmember Helen Gym introduced a bill designed to protect hospital patients and staff during hospital closures.

The bill requires hospitals to provide notice to the Department of Public Health within 180 days of closure, as well as provide a comprehensive plan which must be approved by the city’s health commissioner.

Another bill sponsored by Gym which would require city settlements to be disclosed publicly, passed at Thursday’s session.

According to a statement released by Gym’s office, the city paid out $48 million in settlements in 2018. The public does not have access any information regarding the settlements unless a Right-To-Know request is filed.

“Reform only happens when the public can see recurring problems,” Gym said in the statement. “The public deserves to know how much we’re paying for these systemic issues and how to avoid them in the future.”

Before the start of the general meeting, Councilmember Cherelle Parker, along with councilmembers Kenyatta Johnson, Maria Quinones-Sanchez, Bill Greenlee, and Derek Green, held a news conference in support of SEIU 32 BJ’s decision to authorize a strike that will go into effect Tuesday, Oct. 15, if a contract agreement cannot be reached.

Parker also introduced a resolution calling for a fair contract for the members of the union.

“If the hardworking men and women-most of them people of color-who clean and maintain the city’s commercial buildings are not able to join the middle class, then we have a serious problem in our community,” Parker said via a press release.

The resolution 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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