Thursday, September 3, 2015

Should Occupy Philly pay the city anything?

Occupy Philly has raised nearly $7,000 in donations.

Should Occupy Philly pay the city anything?

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Occupy Philly has raised nearly $7,000 in donations. 

The funds have come in form of checks, PayPal payments and even cash donated in person. Occupy Philly protester Steve Ross said the group is deciding how to spend that money, but he expects it will go toward things like food, tents and laptops.

We have to ask: Should the protesters send some of that money the city’s way?

The tent city outside City Hall cost taxpayers $230,000 in its first week — and is expected to cost taxpayers $112,000 for every additional week, according to budget director Rebecca Rhynhart. Most of that money is for police overtime, though there are other costs, too, including in re-directed services.

Occupy’s Ross rejected the idea of paying the city for the protest’s costs. “It wasn’t our choice that the city spent that money,” he said. “We are a self-sufficient society. We can take care of ourselves.”

Demonstrators argue that fewer — and perhaps no — police are needed to patrol them. City officials said police are necessary to guarantee public safety.

The tent city outside City Hall, and the costs that come with it, come at a bad time for local government: Thanks to weaker-than-expected tax revenues, the city is planning to cut about 2 percent from most departments’ budgets, except fire, police and prisons, which are exempt from the fiscal ax.

At Monday’s debate between Council at-large candidates, all the hopefuls present expressed concern over the costs of Occupy Philly. Councilman Bill Green said the city made a mistake when it allowed the protesters to pitch tents and sleep over.

Local attorney Maxwell Kennerly said that if the city decided to charge Occupy Philly for the costs, it would be difficult to defend that decision in court, since the protesters didn’t request the services.

“The protesters didn’t ask for this police presence there, and it certainly is necessary that there is some degree of police presence when you have any sort of large gathering of people," he said. "But the protesters would have a fairly solid argument in response of, they didn’t create these costs.”

When asked if the city would consider charging protesters, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said Occupy Philly will be paying for at least one service: electricity. Ross confirmed the agreement.

“It’s a utility bill,” Ross said. “You don’t get free electricity at your home.”

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Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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