Philadelphia City Council approves excess funding for public safety and cultural facilities

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — The City Council on Thursday approved a mid-year budget transfer that will include $24 million to improve public safety, including witness protection and money for arts and cultural groups.

The council meeting was the first of four new members: Anthony A. Phillips, D-9th District, who replaced Cherelle Parker; Quetcy M. Lozado, D-7th District, who replaced Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, along with at-Large Council members James A. Harrity III and Sharon Vaughn, who replaced Allan Domb and Derek Green, respectively.

In a move that also affected public safety, the council passed final curfew legislation sponsored by Katherine Gilmore Richardson, the council member at large.

But controversy erupted in the chamber when council member David Oh said in an impassioned speech that money previously earmarked for witness protection had yet to be spent and some witnesses were actually assaulted and shot. Oh applied for a motion to submit the broadcast, but no member supported it, so it failed.

“It’s very problematic and troubling, but also very sad,” Oh said. “We can’t solve crimes if we can’t protect witnesses.”

Several of his peers, including council members Cindy Bass, Curtis Jones, Isaiah Thomas and freshman Vaughn, agreed with him, but none supported the motion.

But they agreed that Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration should be held accountable.

Kenney’s office told the Philadelphia Tribune there will be means to protect some witnesses.

“Instead of setting up a separate new office, management and the Office of the Chief Executive have decided to use funds in the budget to support shooting victims – including relocation – to increase funding for the existing organizations currently doing this work. including the Office of the Attorney General and the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network,” said Kevin Lessard, a spokesman for the mayor. “The mid-year transfer ordinance passed by the City Council today will allocate $1 million for this purpose.”

The city ended the past fiscal year with a surplus due to higher than expected tax revenues and savings in personnel costs. This mid-year budget transfer was negotiated between the Mayor’s Office and City Council and postponed by the Appropriations Committee chaired by Jones.

Council President Darrell Clarke said the mid-year transfer of funds typically provides an opportunity for the council and mayor to work together to provide funds to critical groups and programs that need them.

“Public programs and areas will always receive our full attention,” he said. “Arts and cultural organizations also play an important role in the life of our city, and the council is taking steps with this proposed budget to better fund many worthy and diverse cultural organizations.”

For example, $475,000 in Safe Play Zone cameras was added as part of this transfer. $1 million will be allocated for victim and witness protection and $100,000 for surveillance cameras at the Please Touch Museum.

Some of the cultural and arts institutions receiving money are:

  • African American Museum in Philadelphia: $3 million
  • The Dell Music Center: $3 million
  • Calder Gardens: $2 million
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art: $2 million
  • Philadelphia Zoo: $2 million
  • Mann Center for the Performing Arts: $2 million
  • Please Touch Museum: $2 million
  • Franklin Institute: $2 million
  • Marian Anderson Historical Society & Museum: $250,000.

In other Council matters, the panel passed legislation establishing a curfew, requiring children under the age of 18 to be home by 10pm or face the police. There are several exceptions for young people traveling to or from work, school or religious activities.

Children apprehended by police for violating the curfew are first taken home. If nobody is there, they will be taken to the police district or one of the city’s municipal resource centers.

The curfew was temporarily introduced this summer.

Last week, the council passed several amendments to the bill, including a clarification that there are no penalties for homeless youth traveling after curfew; requires quarterly youth curfew reporting from both the Philadelphia Police Department and the City Department of Human Services. Also, parent is changed to “parent, guardian, and caregiver” to match other languages ​​in the code.