Tough Times Tough Solutions Forums on City Budget

Posted by on February 2, 2009

Nutter asks for community input on budget choices

The University of Pennsylvania Project for Civic Engagement has announced the dates and locations of four community workshops, called Tough Times, Tough Solutions Forums, to gather citizen input for the City of Philadelphia’s 2010 budget process.

On January 15th, Mayor Nutter announced that the city’s looming 5-year budget deficit will be $2 billion – twice the amount originally projected – because of the worsening national fiscal crisis.  While noting that further painful choices will be required to ensure the fiscal integrity of the city, he also announced plans for an unprecedented level of public engagement in the budget process as options to close the budget deficit are examined.

The events will open with a panel discussion, in which journalists will question top city officials to get a clear sense of the city’s fiscal picture, how things got this bad, and how this set of possible cuts and other steps was developed.

Then citizens will be broken up into the smaller working groups. Each working session will be guided by an experienced moderator trained by the Penn Project.

For those who want to give individual testimony, as well as taking part in the group deliberations, opportunities will be provided to offer short videotaped statements and to post handwritten suggestions, comments, ideas and opinions on a public “wailing wall.” All of this input will be gathered and conveyed to city officials, along with the results of the workshop sessions.

City officials have promised to weigh the input from the forums, and to report back to citizens on how their input was reflected in the proposed budget that Mayor Nutter will present to Council in March.

Most city agencies have been asked to develop spending reduction scenarios for the fiscal year beginning in July ranging from 10 to 30 percent of their total budgets.  In addition to potential service cuts in basic services such as sanitation, public safety, the new budget crisis is likely to have a more dramatic impact on programs that have already suffered steep reductions – libraries, recreation, parenting education, and youth development programs – as well as health and social services that were protected in the first round of cuts.

Complicating the budget decision making is that fact that many of the city’s most critical health and social services – such as foster care and mental health treatment – are protected by state and federal legal mandates – forcing most cuts to be made in popular community-based programs that are not mandated by law.  Another issue is that even small cuts in these programs mean the loss of state and federal matching funds.  For example, while the November budget cut only saved $5 million in the city budget, the city also lost an additional $20 million in state matching funds.

The November cut resulted in the elimination of dozens of youth programs ranging from after school to intensive delinquency prevention and parenting programs.  These programs are likely to remain a major target for any further reductions.

Advocates are urging individuals who have benefited from the threatened services to register for the workshops so that officials can better understand their value to the community.

All workshops begin with registration at 6pm.  Registration is vital to the process of dividing participants into evenly sized, diverse working groups.  The program will run from 7pm to 9:30pm.

Here are the dates and sites:
— Thursday, Feb. 12th – St. Dominic’s School, 8510 Frankford Ave.
— Wednesday, Feb. 18th – Mastery Charter School, 5700 Wayne Ave.
— Thursday, Feb 19th – St. Monica’ss Catholic School, 16th and Porter Streets.
— Monday, Feb. 23rd – Pinn Memorial Baptist Church, 2251 N. 54th Street

The Mayor said that the budget workshops are one piece of a process aimed to ensure that citizens are involved early on in the budget process.  The plan is to examine different budget options, discuss choices that need to be made, and gather input from people across the city on their concerns and priorities.

For further information on the budget workshops, click here.

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