Kenney drops proposed tax hike

Mayor Jim Kenney.
Charles Mostoller

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration has dropped a bid to raise property taxes after City Council members bristled at the proposal.

Kenney said the tax hike was scrapped because of a spending bill in Harrisburg that would maintain last year’s funding levels for districts across the state.

His plan had called for a 3.95 percent increase to property taxes as a way to fill the School District of Philadelphia’s $38 million budget gap.

The mayor said Council opposition to the levy was not a factor in his decision and indicated the city would have to search for additional funding sources in the future.

“This act of the legislature fills a hole for this year,” Kenney said. “Going forward, we’re going to be in a situation with our schools that they’re going to need more.”

Representatives from the school district did not immediately return a request for comment on Kenney’s change of heart.

Earlier in the week, Council President Darrell Clarke sent a letter to Board of Education President Joyce Wilkerson advising school leaders that it would be “unwise” to assume the tax increase would be approved, according to a copy of the document acquired by Metro.

Wilkerson’s board was scheduled to vote on the district’s budget Thursday night.

Meanwhile, city leaders cautioned restaurants not to begin taking reservations for outdoor dining next week, even after Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that it would be permitted with certain restrictions.

Officials said bars and restaurants rushing to set up outdoor seating areas in time for June 5 — when Philadelphia is scheduled to move into Wolf’s “yellow phase” — are moving too quickly.

“No restaurants should be announcing plans to launch outdoor dining on June 5,” Kenney said. “We need you to wait to ensure that our protocols can be followed.”

He expressed concerns about sidewalk accessibility for people with disabilities and making sure the option is suitable for all neighborhoods.

“I’m not saying it’s not going to happen. It most likely will happen,” Kenney said. “We just want to make sure we have all our I’s dotted and T’s crossed.”

Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the city has had a team of employees working on the issue for the last couple weeks. Officials expect to decide on a policy sometime next week.

Philadelphia reported 175 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 10 additional deaths, bringing overall fatalities to 1,258. Just under 1,000 people with the virus are hospitalized in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said his department continues developing protocols, setting up software and hiring people to establish a comprehensive contact tracing system, which the city hopes to put in place over the next few weeks.

Specific guidelines on yellow phase restrictions for residents and businesses in the city will be released Friday.

Farley said it’s his understanding that, while it’s Wolf’s decision to ease back virus-related rules, the city can impose stricter guidelines than the state.

In other coronavirus-related news, Wolf on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for professional sports to resume in the state without fans. All players and other staff must be screened or tested, the Governor’s Office said.

“As a fan, I’m dying to see it come back,” Kenney said Thursday. “As long as everyone agrees that we’re taking all the precautions possible, we’d love to see them come back.”

The home of the Phillies, Citizens Bank Park, will host the city’s first drive-through food distribution site on Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Recipients will receive a 35-pound box per vehicle.

Participants are not required to show identification or documentation, and walk-ups are not allowed. The weekly drive-through site will operate on Fridays through June 26.

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