By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia City Council members are promising to step up funding for the city’s cash-starved schools, but they’re not jumping on board the mayor’s proposal for a hike in property taxes.

Two months of Council hearings on the budget got underway this morning with Council president Darrell Clarke making a promise to step up funding for the schools.

“We will continue, in some way, shape, or form to continue to support the school district with additional revenue,” he said.

 

(City Council president Darrell Clarke, at the budget hearing.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(City Council president Darrell Clarke, at the budget hearing. Image from City of Phila. TV)

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But it likely won’t be until June that City Council and Mayor Nutter agree on the level of additional support, or on the method of raising the cash.  “We will go through this process and determine what that revenue is, and the level of that revenue,” said Clarke.

The school district wants more than $100 million above the city’s current contribution.  The mayor proposes raising $105 million with a 9.3-percent hike in property taxes.  Councilmembers are already discussing alternate means.

One idea is to shift the proportion of property taxes that goes to the school district from 55 percent to 60 percent, so the total property tax revenue is the same but the schools get a bigger slice of the pie.

Councilman Bill Greenlee expects to hear of other ways to raise the cash.

“There are always ways,” Greenlee said.  “That’s the purpose of the hearing.  There’s always other ways.  And we’ll see.”

Day One of the budget hearings focused on the mayor’s long-range budget, known as the “Five Year Plan.”  Everett Gillison, the mayor’s chief of staff, said the city’s finances are improving, with moderate growth in both tax receipts and population, several years after the recession.

“We are navigating a new normal.  As tax revenues increase modestly and savings from efficiencies are realized, we must make important choices about how to invest those taxpayer dollars,” Gillison (center of top photo) testified.

And Council and the administration will spend the next two months wrangling over those very choices.