Archive: December, 2011
It's hard to describe exactly what happened to the sidewalk along East Hewson Street, in Fishtown, but we'll say it as best we can: Someone's yard ate it.
If you're walking down the sidewalk of this residential block, you walk into a tall, black, wooden fence that extends out from a resident's yard. You have to step into the street to get around it.
In this week's It's Our Money podcast, reporters Holly Otterbein and Doron Taussig bicker about whether 2011 was a good year or not.
On the bright side, City Council reformed both the zoning code and the horribly-named business-privilege tax. But from the glass-half-empty perspective, there were huge School District cuts, the $905,000 buyout of ex-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, the property-tax hike, Congressman Pat Meehan's new 7th district, a scandal involving the former chair of the School Reform Commission, and ... you get the idea.
Curious about how much the city spends on police overtime every year?
Check out the It's Our Money chart above, which ran with Dana DiFillipo's article today on how cops sweeten their paychecks with overtime.
As 2011 comes to a close, we decided to take a look back at the year's best and worst uses of taxpayer money. Here's what we came up with. Be sure to give us your own list in the comments.
$6 million-$11 million: The Sheriff's Office paid $6 million-$11 million in "excess fees" to two companies owned by James Davis, the brother of a high-ranking sheriff's employee, according to Controller Alan Butkovitz. That's just the money that the controller is sure was excess money. The sheriff actually paid Davis' companies more than $206 million from 2005 to 2010. And the companies failed to distribute all the money they recovered from sheriff sales to people who lost their homes.
$1 million: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's wine kiosks cost the state $1 million to operate — and brought in only $200,000 in sales, according to an August report from state Auditor General Jack Wagner. Then, in September, the kiosk manufacturer defaulted on the $1 million bill it owed the state. That prompted Pennsylvania to finally put the kibosh on the perestroika-like experiment.
It's Our Money won't be around much between now and the New Year -- though we will be bringing you a Help Desk next week, and our Best and Worst Uses of Taxpayer Money, 2011, so check back here for those. Thanks for reading, please have a terrific holiday and we'll see you in 2012.
The Pennsylvania Independent reports that the Corbett administration is considering layoffs of several hundred state police to help deal with Pennsylvania's big new deficit. The administration won't confirm the plan, but the police union says it's been given notice.
People who support big government cuts often suggest that those cuts should be easy to make, because, they believe, the government is so bloated. But the fact that the law-and-order friendly Corbett administration is turning to police layoffs to deal with a deficit suggests that cuts are not easy to make at all.
That doesn't mean there's no fat to trim. But it does mean that the fat is hard to find and isolate in cuts. Otherwise, you wouldn't hear quotes like this from Budget Secretary Charles Zogby:
This is an opinion of the Daily News People's Editorial Board, a group of 10 citizens who gather to debate hot topics in the city. To see video of the board's debates, go to www.philly.com/blogs/peb.
WE THE PEOPLE decided, this holiday season, to turn our attention toward hunger in Philadelphia. Here's the first thing we want you to know:
Hunger is not what you think.
LAST SUNDAY, Fishtown resident Erica Maxwell's water mysteriously stopped working. She wasn't late on her bill. Her water pipes weren't damaged, leaking sewage or hurting anyone. And a hurricane definitely had not ravaged Fishtown overnight.
Outside, Water Department trucks lined her block.
Right before the water went off, a little girl who lived down the street knocked on Maxwell's door to warn her of the outage. Not a peep from the city, though.
Maxwell escaped to a neighborhood bar and, later, to a friend's house to watch the Eagles game.
Later that day, the Eagles had won but Maxwell's water was still off. She was upset. They could have at least warned us, she said.
"I don't think it's good practice to manually shut off water without alerting residents," she wrote on Twitter. "I really don't like this city right now." That night, after she asked, Water Dept. workers gave her an accurate estimate of when the water would be back on.
LEFT HIGH & DRY: We called up the Water Department to get some answers. Spokesman John DiGiulio told us that the water on Maxwell's block had to be shut off so that workers could fix a broken hydrant that was damaging a property. Usually, he said, the department notifies residents of an outage, but if it's an emergency, sometimes there isn't enough time to do so.
If your water gets shut off and you have no idea why, or when it'll come back, call the Water Department's 24-hour line at 215-685-6300. (That's a good number to write down, especially because 3-1-1 is open only during weekdays and business hours.)
And if you don't get results, call us: 215-854-5855.
In this week's podcast, Holly and I half-jokingly asked Santa to get Gov. Corbett an annulment of his no-new-taxes pledge, because state revenues were coming in lower than projections and he might need some flexibility.
We should not have half-joked:
Gov. Tom Corbett's top budget adviser on Tuesday warned that Pennsylvania's tax collections will continue to suffer from economic weakness and said he is developing a plan to freeze some state spending to ease a shortfall that he expects will reach at least $500 million by the end of the fiscal year in six months.
This is potentially an important development in Rhode Island:
Retired police and firefighters from Central Falls, R.I., have agreed to sharp pension cuts, a step thought to be unprecedented in municipal bankruptcy and one that could prompt similar attempts by other distressed governments.
The key word in that sentence is the first one -- "retired." Until now, municipalities faced with pension troubles have focused cuts elsewhere (such as existing services or future pension commitments) because of the legal difficulty of cutting pensions. After all, a retired worker's pension is supposed to be compensation he or she has already earned (and contributed to). Taking it away would be like taking back money already paid.