Vacant lots program facing budget ax?

Funding for a popular program to “clean-and-green” vacant lots could be severely reduced or eliminated under budget cuts expected to be announced Wednesday, program officials  fretted Tuesday.

The Community Land Care program, run by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, has been funded by the city since 2000 as a natural companion to Mayor John F. Street’s Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, which demolished derelict properties. Often, the newly created lots became targets of illegal dumping .

The program, operating with $2.4 million from the city in 2009-2010, has cleared 5,000 lots totaling 280 acres, said Alan Jaffe, spokesman for the PHS. Since the end of the fiscal year June 30, PHS has received no funding for Community Land Care, and officials are not optimistic that the program will be funded fully -- or possibly at all -- when Nutter administration officials submit their five-year plan to the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority Wednesday.

Although the Fiscal Year 2011 budget began July 1, the Nutter administration has not announced cuts that the mayor said were necessary because of unexpectedly low revenues and an inadequate surplus to work with in the $3.9 billion budget. On Wednesday, however, the administration must present a solid five-year plan with a balanced 2010-2011.

“We’re very concerned that the community is going to be impacted by this,” Jaffe said.

“There are lot of numbers out there, and I don’t think any of the numbers I’ve seen are accurate,” said city Finance Director Rob Dubow, who would not comment further Tuesday.

The $2.4 million goes to 15 community organizations which, in turn contract with companies whose missions include hiring recovering addicts, former prisoners and the homeless. Jaffe said 200 jobs will be lost.

The program’s philosophy is simple. By first removing trash, then planting grass and trees, then setting up an attractive – but not restrictive – wood-rail fence, a green oasis is created, and people don’t even want to dump there any longer. Officials have a system of reaching out to landlords for permission to do the work on private lots, though many are city-owned lands acquired as part of NTI.

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