Schuylkill River Trail slated for funding cut

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The Schuylkill River Trail, slated for a funding cut in Mayor Kenney’s proposed budget, could end up getting a modest boost because of City Council intervention.

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, whose district borders the trail, last week introduced an amendment that would allocate more money to the park. He questioned the timing of the administration’s plans to cut funding by more than a third over the next six years as it also commits $90 million over the same period to build a park over I-95.

“There was as significant amount of investment in that particular project,” Johnson said. “Nothing is wrong with that. But let’s continue to make sure we invest in the Schuylkill River Trail. We shouldn’t increase funding for one while cutting the other.”

The city committed $7.5 million to the park in last year’s capital budget, which planned for fiscal years 2017-2022. This year, in the budget for 2018-2023, it lowered that number to $4 million.

Johnson’s amendment, which Council will vote on before budget season ends in late June, would increase funding to $8 million, $3 million of it in the first year.

The Kenney administration defended the decrease at a budget hearing in March, saying $4.5 million for the park remained in reserves from previous years’ budgets.

“We’re assuming there won’t be any challenge in [fiscal year 2018] because they have all of the prior year funding available,” said city Budget Director Anna Adams. “And then we’ll assume they need funding from [fiscal year 2019] onwards.”

Joe Syrnick, executive director of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation, said that money is all accounted for.

He said it is allocated to several projects including construction of a segment between South and Christian Streets, a swing bridge over the river connecting the trail to Bartram’s Mile on the west bank and the design of a new section south of Bartram Gardens.

Syrnick said it was “shocking” to see the proposed drop in funding and said the cut would would put a pause on other projects, including construction of a section connecting a high-traffic segment to the north with a lesser-used portion in Gray’s Ferry. Syrnick said the city has been “a good friend and a good partner” but that without the additional funding he does not expect his group will be able to secure additional grants needed for the project.

“It’s taken a long time to get momentum up but now the moment is here,” he said. “Please, don’t kill the moment up to this point.”

At the budget hearing in March, Michael Diberardinis, the city’s managing director, called that project an “essential feature” of the trail and said the city plans to fund its portion in the next year or two.

But Lauren Hitt, Mayor Kenney’s spokeswoman, on Thursday stood by the city’s decision to decrease funding in the six-year plan.

“The [Schuylkill River Development Corporation] didn’t spend the money we already gave them in the time frame they said they would,” she said. “So before we award additional money, we want to see them live up to their previous promises.”

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