PHILADELPHIANS are tired of the illegal "bandit" signs that pop up on utility poles around the city, screaming "We Buy Houses!" or "Cash 4 Junk Cars." On Monday, the Daily News reported about one citizen who's taking matters into his own hands by tearing them down. But city government is (finally) trying to find a solution, too.
The Nutter administration has been working on a new strategy to fight the obnoxious signs. The plan is two-fold, said Brian Abernathy, chief of staff to the managing director: ramp up enforcement with a staff dedicated to tracking down offenders, and get city agencies to focus on taking the signs down.
We say that the city is "finally" cracking down because the current enforcement plan is . . . pretty much nonexistent. In 2010, the city wrote only eight tickets for illegal signs. When we called the Streets Department and Licenses and Inspections to ask about current enforcement, they both declined to comment.
THE PHILADELPHIA Housing Authority and Philadelphia Gas Works are duking it out over hundreds of thousands of dollars PGW says it's owed. But no matter who emerges victorious, the public will pay.
PGW says that former PHA tenants owe nearly $350,000 dating from the 1990s - and that PHA is responsible. PHA says the quarrel is between the utility and the tenants who never paid.
Meanwhile, the $350,000 debt may be just the beginning.
WE the people began talking about property taxes by taking an anonymous survey of our board. Each member who owns property wrote down the market values of our homes, and what we pay in property taxes.
One owner of a $100,000 home pays $5,000 in taxes, while the owner of a $300,000 home pays $3,000; an owner of a $350,000 home pays $6,700.
Our experiment confirmed that Philly's property-tax system is a joke. How much you pay in taxes is based on the city's estimated "value" of your property, but those values are have been set over the years by a dysfunctional, often politically motivated system out of touch with reality. Which is why the Nutter administration is reassessing all the properties in the city, in order to tax the full correct value. This will make all of our property taxes fairer.
A FEW MONTHS ago we told you the strange story of some Fishtown folks who had fenced off the sidewalk adjacent to their property, essentially making the sidewalk part of their side yard. The sidewalk had been fenced off for years, neighbors said, and it still is. The neighbors were upset, and wondered how someone could take control of what they thought was public property.
It turns out that this particular sidewalk isn't public property. The city turned the street that it's on, East Hewson Street, into private property years ago. Yes, the city can give a street to private property owners. It has done so many times.
The Streets Department originally told us that the property owners didn't have a permit to block the sidewalk, and issued them a violation. But when we followed up recently, spokeswoman Keisha McCarty-Skelton said that the street was actually private property, and if residents want to annex the sidewalk, they can. The violation has been pulled.
This week, City Council began holding hearings about specific aspects of the city budget. Over the next few months, every single thing the city spends money on could potentially come under the microscope. Every single thing except one.
City Council's own budget.
On March 14, when scores of residents testified at Council's first hearing on Mayor Nutter's budget, something was missing.
Citizens didn't have access to Nutter's "budget detail," a document thousands of pages long that provides specifics on every dime the city plans to spend next fiscal year. In excruciating detail, it spells out the objectives of each department, employees’ benefits, overtime costs, contractors, equipment funding and more.
This is the sixth of the "Philadelphian Horror Story" series, in which we tell you about the monsters lurking in the city's budget.
City Council’s budget is as mysterious as Bigfoot.
During several weeks of hearings each year, Council asks questions about every part of the city’s budget, from the prison system to the School District. But it never holds a hearing about its own budget, and Council President Darrell Clarke doesn’t plan on changing this tradition anytime soon.
It's Our Money
One thing emerged Tuesday from City Council's hearings on the impact of state cuts to the homeless, mental health and other human services: Local pols and advocates agree about how lamentable this situation is.
Not so clear: ideas for how the city will deal with the fallout.