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Archive: April, 2012

POSTED: Thursday, April 26, 2012, 11:01 AM

Yesterday a City Council committee considered legislation that would require the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication, which handles parking-ticket appeals, to allow citizens to fight tickets online or by phone. Shouldn’t these options have been available, like, yesterday?

Especially since for most of us, fighting an unfair parking ticket means taking a day off work and spending it in a waiting room — or else just deciding,“screw it, it’s not worth it” and paying up.

Concerned BAA administrators fear that these changes would lead to a flood of appeals and that face-to-face conversations are more “satisfying” for members of the public.

Doron Taussig @ 11:01 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 9:54 AM
Leah Howse with the dumpster she says kept getting emptied at 4:30 am.

Every Tuesday Leah Howse got a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call. Free of charge, courtesy of the trash haulers right outside her bedroom.

Since December, when someone moved a Dumpster to the alley behind her house, the noisy haulers consistently provided an unwanted alarm.

Howse, who lives in Francisville, says the combination of the beeping truck, the banging to make sure the Dumpster’s empty, and the workers yelling to each other ensures that her day starts early. “It’s relatively quick,” she says, “but then I’m awake.”

Juliana Reyes @ 9:54 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 1:16 PM

Check out the full text of the School District's budget-in-brief below. You can also find the blueprint document here. And stay tuned: We'll post more budget documents as we get them.


SDP-FY2012-13-Budget-in-Brief-2012-4-24
Holly Otterbein @ 1:16 PM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 12:48 PM
A few abandoned homes in North Philadelphia (Dan Loh)

On this week's IOM podcast, city services reporter Juliana Reyes explains to Doron Taussig what the city will do to him if he a) ignore code violations, b) doesn't pay his property taxes and c) doesn't pay his water bill — and why he might be able to get away with all three.

Juliana Reyes and Doron Taussig @ 12:48 PM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 12:07 PM
Thomas Knudsen, the district's chief recovery officer. (SARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer)

The School District is staring down a $218 million deficit in the next fiscal year, officials announced today at a press conference.

But if Council doesn’t pass Mayor Nutter’s Actual Value Initiative — or raise revenues in some other way — the district will face an even bigger shortfall. 

“I don’t even want to think about the consequences” of that, said Thomas Knudsen, the district’s Chief Recovery Officer, yesterday.

Holly Otterbein @ 12:07 PM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Friday, April 20, 2012, 10:09 AM

The 40,000 parcels of vacant, often neglected properties in Philadelphia are a non-stop emergency — and not just because of awful events like the fire at the Buck Hosiery factory that claimed the lives of two firemen. According to a 2010 report from Econsult, these parcels reduce property values citywide by $3.6 billion.

City government spends $20 million each year just to “maintain” the 12,000 parcels it owns. (That’s the cost of a lot of cops, which, ironically, we need more of, since vacants invite trouble into neighborhoods.)

The city has been battling blight for more than a decade. At least under the Nutter administration, the Department of Licenses and Inspections has made progress in how the city monitors blight and demolishes imminently dangerous structures. But the city still hasn’t settled on a strategy for how to get thousands of properties away from deadbeats and into the hands of responsible, taxpaying owners.

Doron Taussig @ 10:09 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Thursday, April 19, 2012, 10:58 AM
Remains of the warehouse in Kensington destroyed by a fire early Monday that claimed the lives of two firefighters from Ladder 10. Neighbors had complained that the old Thomas W. Buck Hosiery building was unsafe. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer (Remains of the warehouse in Kensington)

Even before a fire ravaged Kensington’s Thomas W. Buck Hosiery building and led to the deaths of two firefighters, the building was a symbol of the city’s struggles with delinquent property owners. Yechiel, Michael and Nahman Lichtenstein, who own 31 properties in Philadelphia, owe almost $400,000 in back property taxes, more than $10,000 in unpaid water bills, and have numerous outstanding Licenses and Inspections violations. That’s the Holy Trinity of delinquent property ownership.

What does the city do when property owners are delinquent in each of these areas? And why don’t the problems always get resolved? Help Desk is focused this week on those questions. Hit us with your city service complaints for next week.

Unpaid property taxes

Juliana Reyes @ 10:58 AM  Permalink | 0
POSTED: Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 4:41 PM
Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Museum of Art's official site
THE PHILADELPHIA Museum of Art has dough.
It enjoys a $360 million endowment. A dozen top employees make six-figure salaries, including museum CEO Timothy Rub, who brings home $450,000 annually.
The city still chips in, though. It gives the museum more than $2 million a year for security and upkeep of its city-owned buildings, in addition to money for capital projects.
So you wouldn't think taxpayers would need to foot the bill for the museum's utilities. But they do. The city pays about $3.4 million each year for the museum's electric, gas, steam and water bills.
This isn't uniqu e. In fact, the city spends about $4.4 million annually for the utility bills of nonprofits like the Art Museum.
The nonprofits that get this hookup include big institutions like the Mann Center, whose utilities cost taxpayers about $111,000 annually, as well as little-known groups like the Holmesburg Fish & Game gun club.
Recipients of this luxury argue that the city is making a wise investment. While not all nonprofits enjoy the break, at least 50 lucky institutions do.
How do you get lucky? There's no city policy guiding who gets free utilities and who doesn't. Many of the arrangements were made decades ago by long-gone administrations, so it's hard to say for sure. But consider the case of one North Philadelphia homeowners association.
Residents of the privately owned Jefferson Manor Townhouses share a quad, parking spaces and a few alleys. The city has been picking up the tab for this shared area's utilities since 1988, when former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. signed a bill transferring the property to the city. The bills cost taxpayers about $4,000 each year.
Paula Taylor Peebles, then-president of the Jefferson Manor Community Development Corporation, says that the city began paying the utilities simply because homeowners didn't want to. She says that the late Sam Evans, a political kingmaker, fought for the hookup.
Zack Stalberg, president of the government watchdog Committee of Seventy, says that the city should adopt a clear policy about paying for utilities. Otherwise, taxpayers won't be protected.
"I know it's hard to believe, in Philadelphia, that there would be cronyism and favoritism and special deals," he says, "but that's what tends to happen when you don't have a very clear policy."
Critics also question whether the city can afford to keep footing these bills.
Laura Otten, director of La Salle University's Nonprofit Center, whose mission is to empower local nonprofits, says that she is "a little bit outraged and a lot surprised" by the fact that the city pays millions for institutions' utility bills.
"How many more police officers, firefighters could that put on the street?" she asks.
Otten argues that the breaks could give an unfair advantage to politically connected institutions.
But Mark Focht, first deputy commissioner of Parks & Recreation, defends many of the breaks. He argues that in several cases the city is paying for utilities because nonprofits are spending serious dough to maintain city buildings.
"The Boys & Girls Club up in Tacony Creek Park, they've made a quarter-million dollars in capital improvements into a city-owned building," he says.
Focht also points out that the Art Museum raises private money to maintain its city-owned properties, which it leases for free.
Art Museum president Gail Harrity argues that the city is using its money well. She also says that the museum is taking care of some city-owned art collections.
"The museum's economic impact on the city is vast," she says. "On average, for every dollar invested or spent in the museum, there's a four-dollar return in revenue for the city."
Focht admits that he doesn't know if the deals negotiated before his tenure "would stand up against criteria that may be imposed today." He says that as old agreements have come up for renewal, Parks & Rec has pushed nonprofits to start picking up the tab.
Robert Allen, a Parks & Rec director, says that some Council members have gotten involved in the past when the city has moved to make nonprofits pay utility bills.
Last year, Mayor Nutter charged a task force headed by former mayoral candidate Tom Knox with examining city facilities. One of its goals is to come up with a policy governing the breaks for nonprofits.
"What we're trying to do now is find out why we're doing it, and who deserves it and who doesn't," Knox says.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has dough.

It enjoys a $360 million endowment. A dozen top employees make six-figure salaries, including museum CEO Timothy Rub, who brings home $450,000 annually.

Holly Otterbein @ 4:41 PM  Permalink | 0
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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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