The Lead

Philly City Council greenlights surplus funds for public safety, cultural venues

By: - December 3, 2022 6:30 am
African-American Museum

The African-American Museum of Philadelphia (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — City Council on Thursday approved a midyear budget transfer that will include $24 million to improve public safety, such as witness protection and money for arts and cultural groups.

The Council session marked the first since it added 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 Councilmembers James A. Harrity III and Sharon Vaughn, who replaced Allan Domb and Derek Green respectively.

In a move also related to public safety, Council passed a final curfew bill, sponsored by at-large Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson.

But a controversy erupted in chamber when at-large Council member David Oh said in an impassioned speech that money previously allocated for witness protection had yet to be spent and some witnesses were in fact targeted and shot. Oh sought a motion to table the transfer, but no member seconded it, so it failed.

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

Several of his colleagues, including Councilmembers Cindy Bass, Curtis Jones, Isaiah Thomas and newcomer Vaughn agreed with him, but none would second 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 funds to protect some witnesses.

“Instead of standing up a separate new office, the administration and the Managing Director’s Office made a decision to use the funding in the budget that provides supports for shooting victims — including relocation — to increase funding for the existing organizations that currently do this work, including the DA’s Office and Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network,” said Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for the mayor. “In the midyear transfer ordinance passed today by City Council, there will be $1 million in funding dedicated to this purpose.”

The city ended the last fiscal year with a surplus as a result of higher than expected tax revenue and money saved from vacancies in staff. This midyear budget transfer was negotiated between the mayor’s office and City Council and moved through the Appropriations Committee headed by Jones.

Council President Darrell Clarke said the midyear budget transfer typically provides an opportunity for the Council and mayor to work together to provide funds for critical groups and programs that need it.

“Public programs and areas will always receive our full attention,” he said. “Arts and cultural organizations also play a vital role in the life of our city, and Council is taking steps through this budget bill to better fund many worthy and diverse cultural organizations.”

For example, under this transfer $475,000 was added to Safe Play Zone Cameras; $1 million will fund victim and witness protection and $100,000 will fund security cameras at Please Touch Museum.

Some of the cultural and arts venues receiving money include:

  • 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 business, the body passed a bill that makes permanent, a curfew requiring children under 18 to be home by 10 p.m. or face action by the police. There are several exceptions for young people who are traveling to or from work, school or religious activities.

Children picked up by police for violating curfew will first be taken home. If no one is there they will then be taken to the police district or one of the city’s community resource centers.

The curfew was implemented on a temporary basis this summer.

Last week, Council passed several amendments to the bill, including a clarification that there are no penalties for homeless youth who are out after curfew; requires quarterly reporting on youth curfew from both the Philadelphia Police Department and the city Department of Human Services. In addition, parent is changed to “parent, guardian, and custodian” to correspond with other language in the code.

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