Phila ballot issues easily pass

20140428-Katherine-Gajewski
Katherine Gajewski, director of Philadelphia's Office of Sustainability, on the roof of 1515 Market St., where the reflective white color saves money in energy costs.

Philadelphia voters overwhelming approved three ballot questions Tuesday that would make permanent the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, shift oversight of city prisons, and allow the city to borrow $137.3 million for various capital projects.

In doing so, voters agreed in two instances - the Office of Sustainability and prison oversight - to amend the Home Rule Charter, the city's governing document.

With nearly all of the votes counted, the ballot questions won approval by 2-1 ratios.

In terms of the Office of Sustainability, voters guaranteed that this creation of Mayor Nutter will continue after he leaves office in January 2016.

The office has served to bring to life the initiatives in Nutter's environmental master plan, Greenworks Philadelphia. The plan covers a range of issues, from energy use in city buildings and managing storm water to planting trees and increasing recycling. The Office of Sustainability has a staff of five and a $750,000 annual budget.

Voters also approved a charter change that transfers responsibility for managing and operating jails from the city's welfare department to a new Department of Prisons.

The prison system had been within the welfare department, also known as the Department of Human Services. Despite that, the prisons have been operating independently for the last 26 years.

The vote elevates the prisons commissioner to the same level as the police and fire commissioners, and makes permanent Nutter's reentry program for ex-offenders, known as RISE, the Office of Reintegration Services.

Michael Resnick, director of public safety, said the change comes at no cost to taxpayers and would formalize a structure already in place.

When the 1951 charter placed the prisons under welfare, Resnick said, the system was much smaller and simpler. Today, he said, the city runs six major prison facilities with 8,500 inmates and 2,000 employees.

In approving the final question, voters have permitted the city to borrow $137,295,000 for improvements to streets, recreation centers, police and fire stations, health centers, and other municipal facilities.

 


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