By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A packed agenda Thursday in Philadelphia City Council, as lawmakers today hold their final meeting before adjourning for the summer. Among the items up for a final vote: a school district bailout and a tax break for the owners of the Gallery.
More than 100 bills and resolutions are expected to be called up for final votes as City Council concludes its spring session.
Topping the agenda is the entire city operating and capital budget as well as three tax increases that are intended to get the School District an extra $45 million dollars now and another $25 million in the fall. This was the end result of months of hand-wringing by Council over the mayor’s request to raise property taxes nearly 10-percent to raise $105 million for the schools. Instead, council members decided on a property tax hike that is smaller by half, along with hikes in the parking and use-and-occupancy taxes. This will bring the district only three-quarters of what had been sought — barely enough, in fact, to cover its anticipated deficit.
On that note, two resolutions related to school funding are on Council’s agenda. One authorizes Council to work with the state Auditor General on a study of the School District’s financial health, to be completed by the fall. The other calls for a School District financial oversight board, similar to the state PICA board that watches over the city of Philadelphia’s finances.
Also facing final votes today are a series of bills related to the redevelopment of the Gallery shopping mall in Center City. Most are zoning and streets department bills, but one measure is a tax break worth an estimated $55 million over 20 years. The owner, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, or PREIT, says that public subsidy is needed to make the entire $325 million renovation feasible. The project had earlier hit a roadblock in City Council, where some members wanted “living wage” guarantees for employees of the retailers who will lease space. PRIET vowed that level of wages for its own permanent employees at the Gallery, but said it would not force retailers to do so.
Speaking of wage disputes, Council members are also expected to cast a final vote today on a long-term lease between Philadelphia International Airport and about 22 airlines that operate there. Council gave initial approval last week, but only after the airlines nailed down a separate agreement with a workers union over the wages paid employees of contractors and subcontractors at the airport.
Other items on the agenda today include:
- Councilman Mark Squilla’s bill, also controversial, to permit two 3-D billboard structures, one at the Convention Center, the other near the Reading Terminal Market.
- Council President Darrell Clarke’s bill, suggested by Temple University officials, to limit the number of food vendors on and near the Temple campus.
- Councilwoman Cindy Bass’s bill to codify regulations related to block parties.
- Councilman Bill Greenlee’s plan to regulate short-term rentals booked through websites like “Airbnb.”