West Mt. Airy residents had the opportunity to talk with local government officials and leaders at a West Mt. Airy Neighbors' (WMAN) discussion panel highlighting goals for West Mt. Airy in 2020.

The panel consisted of state Senator LeAnna Washington (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia), Eighth District Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, Elfant Wissahickon Realty agent Larry DiFranco, Mt. Airy USA executive director Anuj Gupta and WMAN executive director Marilyn Cohen.

The panelists discussed everything from the pending implementation of Actual Value Initiative (AVI) to the public school system's budget woes.

Guns regulation

Washington put an emphasis on gun control. Automatic weapons have been a big problem in her district and she's proposed legislation to restrict gun use in the past. 

"When we talk about gun legislation, we're talking about guns that kill people, not guns that kill animals," she said. "We're talking about assault weapons that shouldn't be on our street."

Washington said she plans to push the issue further at the state level.

Philadelphia's failing school system

Washington also brought up the city's schools funding woes. She expressed concern about the city's 23 closed schools as well as the nearly 4,000 school district employees laid off. She said she does not support the proposed cigarette and liquor-by-the-drink taxes meant to aid the funding gap.

"Taxing our citizens...it's not fair," she said. "When you add it all up it's more than a little tax."

Bass said she supports the taxes if it'll help.

"Philadelphia has a real poverty problem and we're not going to be able to solve that problem unless we give a quality education to children," she said. "Even if we provide those funds, that's not advancing quality of education."

Gupta said he believes Mt. Airy's fate lies within a successful school system.

"[We can] rehab buildings, do all traditional work, but if neighborhood public schools don't prove viable options our impact will flatten," he said.

Gupta said an effort has been made to help fill funding gaps at the five neighborhood elementary schools by revitalizing the defunct neighborhood schools committee.

"[The committee] did decide that there is a small dent it can make [in helping the schools replenish funding] and that's through the state's Educational Improvement Tax Credit," he said.

The program allows local businesses to indicate that they would like their state tax dollars to be directed toward neighborhood schools. Interested businesses can apply to the program starting July 1. 

AVI and real estate

Another hot topic for Mt. Airy residents has been AVI. Many worried of the sharp and swift tax increase they will see on their homes.

"I think the city did itself a huge disservice when we sent out assessments," Bass said. 

Bass added that she hopes real estate taxes will start to better fund the public school system.

It's an effort to make this right," said Bass.

DiFranco of Elfant Wissahickon Realty said that for the first time in nearly a decade, real estate value is on an upswing and he expects for it to continue rising

Aging in place

Both Washington, Bass and WMAN executive director Cohen put an emphasis on better serving Mt. Airy residents when it comes to aging in place.

Cohen said WMAN has created a task force to help those aging in Mt. Airy.

Washington also put an emphasis on ensuring care providers were better trained to ensure seniors get quality care.

"Our people need to be better trained to deal with people who are in nursing homes and even if they are aging in place at home," Washington said. "[I'm for] increasing funding for programs for seniors so they can age independently."