Cherelle Parker’s $6.29B ‘One Philly Budget’ prioritizes public safety, quality-of-life issues

The Philadelphia mayor offered the first glimpse of what her vision for the “safest, cleanest, greenest big city in the nation with economic opportunity for all” might look like

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker courtesy of Philadelphia City Council Flickr

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker delivered a historic budget address Thursday, pitching a $6.29 billion plan that prioritizes campaign promises related to public safety, neighborhood cleanliness and more. 

“If public safety is priority No. 1 for Philadelphians, quality-of-life issues is No. 1A,” Parker said during her address. “If you change the environment, you change the behavior. That’s what we’re looking to do.”

Parker presented what she deemed her “One Philly Budget” to City Council during Thursday’s session, offering the first glimpse of what her vision of the “safest, cleanest, greenest big city in the nation with economic opportunity for all” might look like. 

“The people of Philadelphia are tired of politicians getting elected and making good speeches,” Parker said during her remarks. “They want to see their tax dollars at work in their neighborhoods.”

Public safety priorities

Parker referenced the recent shootings on and near SEPTA buses as she laid out the public safety portion of her plan, saying everyone in the city needs to work collaboratively to address gun violence. 

“The events of last week underscore the urgency I feel to restore a sense of order and safety to our city,” Parker said. Her budget plan proposes $33 million in new public safety funding and $600 million in new investments over the next five years, including the hiring of at least 400 new officers every year, as well as funding for more than 100 community policing officers, 150 new radio patrol cars, 75 new unmarked cars and a $45 million capital investment in a new forensics lab. 

She also said she wants a “zero tolerance” policy for law enforcement abuse and a $3 million investment in the Citizens Police Oversight Commission. 

Cleaning collective

Parker’s plans for what she calls priority No. 1A include expanding existing programs and breaking down silos between the agencies and units charged with cleaning corridors and towing abandoned cars.

Parker touted her Taking Care of Business program – which she also championed while on City Council – noting that her buddget includes nearly $8 million to extend the commercial corridor cleaning program to additional corridors and nearby residential streets. The plan also seeks to reach nearly 140 corridors and hire about 150 more cleaning ambassadors, and will spread $150 million over five years to make improvements to parks and recreation centers.

To a loud round of applause, Parker said her five-year plan includes $11 million to pilot twice-weekly trash collection in city neighborhoods most impacted by trash and litter. “Cleaner streets, more green spaces, and planting 15,000 more trees will mean fewer urban heat islands and healthier, more resilient communities,” she emphasized.

Financial framing

Parker addressed both short-term and long-term spending concerns, noting the federal pandemic funding that needs to be spent by the end of 2024 and what’s expected to be a dwindling surplus over the next few years. Parker included the final $449 million in American Rescue Plan funding in her plan to be spent by the end of the calendar year. 

Finance Director Rob Dubow told reporters Wednesday the administration hopes to keep somewhere between 6% to 8% of city revenue in the fund balance, also known as a surplus. Parker’s plan includes leaving $486 million at the end of the next fiscal year — accounting for 7.8% of city revenues. 

Long-term financial stability could come into play. The Wage and Real Estate Transfer taxes, the city’s largest revenue source, has a projected $300 million drop compared to last year’s estimates. Although Parker was proud to announce her plan includes flat tax rates, there are questions about revenue keeping up with spending in years to come. 

Dubow said Wednesday that the city hopes to meet its pension fund obligations by 2033, which would free up millions of dollars for the city annually. 

Kensington commitment

Reinforcing a message she has shared in the past, Parker said the city will need to make “tough decisions necessary to change the status quo” in the battle against the opioid epidemic being fought in neighborhoods like Kensington, which has been increasingly impacted by open-air drug markets. Parker noted $100 million in new funding related to prevention, intervention and enforcement, but reaffirmed that “not a single city dollar” will be used to pay for the distribution of clean needles. 

She then spoke directly to the Kensington community and advocates, saying her Kensington Community Restoration Plan is an attempt to “make Kensington a neighborhood of choice and beacon of pride again.” 

Without going into too much detail, the budget plans to invest the $100 million in new drug treatment “triage facilities.” Those facilities are expected to create spaces where police and outreach workers can meet with substance users and attempt to connect them to a long-term recovery program or have them face arrest. 

“I will not allow us to be put in a box suggesting we do not care,” Parker said. “We care deeply about every person in addiction.”

Councilmember Quetcy Lozada, who represents Kensington in the 7th district, said it has been a “long time coming” for a mayor to commit to neighborhood improvement. 

“People feel like they’re being heard,” Lozada said following the address. “We’re going to see different participation, different involvement by community members because they feel our energy.”

Off the cuff

In a memorable off-script moment, Parker stressed the importance of investment in youth sports. 

“If you want to see me go from zero to 1,000 in a minute, see how frustrating it is for me when I see our children standing in the middle of the street with their helmets in their hands trying to raise funding to do exactly what it is that we should be creating opportunities for them to do.” 

Parker’s plan also includes $3.2 million toward youth sports programs. 

What’s next 

City council committees will hold budget hearings from March 26 through May 1, with the budget proposal needing approval by council by June 30. The new budget takes effect at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.