Council spent the morning talking about how to use taxpayer money

Why is the Free Library leasing computers, instead of buying them?

That’s just one of the questions that left us scratching our heads after today’s Council finance committee hearing, where lawmakers debated several bills about how to use your taxpayer dollars. Here’s the highlight reel:

  • Council considered a bill that would allow the Free Library to enter into an agreement to lease computers and related equipment. Councilman Bill Green asked Jim Pecora, the Free Library’s IT director, if it had compared the costs of leasing computers to buying them. Pecora said the Free Library has, but that the analysis was done years ago. Green made the good point that computer costs have gone down in recent years, and asked for a new analysis. The bill passed out of committee.
  • Another bill on today’s agenda would reform the pension plan for Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW). Currently, employees contribute nothing toward the pension plan. Under the bill, new hires would contribute 6 percent of their compensation. PGW’s CFO Joseph Bogdonavage said that union Local 686 supported the changes, and that they would eventually reduce annual pension costs by 2 percent.
  • The Nutter administration came out to support a series of bills that would allow the city to implement a $12.3 million energy-savings project and finance it through bonds. The project would focus on reducing energy bills at City Hall, the Municipal Services Building, One Parkway and the Criminal Justice Center, which now cost $5.2 million a year. According to the administration, the changes would save $1.4 million in the first year. Councilman Darrell Clarke said he supported the savings. But he questioned whether borrowing money to save money was a sound financial decision, and floated the idea of selling off city assets to fund the project instead. City treasurer Nancy Winkler responded that the borrowing comes at “close to zero interest.” The bills passed out of committee with some amendments.
  • The bill that would change the dreadfully-named “business-privilege tax” to the “business income and receipts tax” got committee-level approval. Planning Commission chairman Alan Greenberger testified that the new name would help send the message that “Philadelphia is a great place to do business.” We’re guessing he also hopes that the “business income and receipts tax” won’t be the butt of countless jokes.

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