The Philadelphia City Council Committee on Appropriations met on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, and approved four bills that transferred funds from the city funds to city departments, including the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Team.
City Budget Director Marissa Waxman said the city ended fiscal year 2019 with a higher than expected fund balance due to increased revenue collections from the Business Income Receipts tax. However, Waxman warned that challenges could lay ahead.
“We should all be pleased with this improvement in our finances, but also acknowledge that we are starting in a vulnerable place with a weak tax base a community with many unmet needs,” Waxman said.
A high level of fixed costs, the pension fund still being less than 50% funded, and a potential recession were mentioned by Waxman as potential financial hurdles.
However, Waxman said the added financial influx would be put to use to satisfy current needs, including programs to reduce gun violence.
Bill No. 190857 transfers general fund appropriations of $7.9 million, grant funds of $111.2 million, water fund $5.1 million, and aviation fund $130,000 to other city departments and agencies to cover budget shortages.
The largest transfer of $14.9 million will be appropriated to the Fire Department to fully fund payroll obligations. The Sheriff’s Office will receive nearly $4 million, and the Health Department will receive just over $500,000.
The bill stipulates that $10 million in funds will also be allocated to the Housing Trust Fund, and $20 million will be put into a recession reserve.
Bill No. 190856, the Fiscal Year 2020 Mid-Year Transfer Ordinance, provides $66 million in additional spending, which Waxman said was made possible by higher-than-expected 2019 fiscal year fund balances.
The new spending includes $15 million to the Fire Department as well a $14 million to provide hepatitis C treatment in Philadelphia prisons.
The transfer ordinance also allocates nearly $500,000 to ACCT, which would use the funds to hire veterinarians. Azita Kay, founder of Paw It 4Ward, said that for the amount of animals ACCT takes in, the organization is severely understaffed.
“With a size intake of 18,000 animals, there should be at least three to four full-time [veterinarians],” Kay said. “You are only asking for two vets.”
Currently, ACCT does not employ a full-time veterinarian.
Ian Griffiths, a volunteer at ACCT, shared data stating of the 15 largest cities in the country, Philadelphia ranks last in the amount it spends on care per animal.
“The top four spend quite a lot on their animal welfare budgets,” Griffiths said. “Washington D.C. spends $1,370 per animal on a $13 million budget.”
Griffiths compared Philadelphia to Baltimore, with the latter spending about $460 per animal despite a slightly higher poverty rate.
“ACCT is all the way down at number 15, and they spend only $230 per animal,” Griffiths said, adding that the organization has trouble keeping veterinarians due to the low pay ACCT offers.
The transfer ordinances will be heard at the next meeting of city council on Nov. 21, 2019.
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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