York Area Regional Police commissioners Thursday approved its 2014 budget, that includes a deficit, and were warned the department can't continue to operate in the red.

George Jones Jr., who is a York Township commissioner, said the $7.7 million budget has "critical issues," namely pulling money from a reserve fund to cover expenses and the police commission's not pre-approving purchases before they are made.

"This budget will kick that can down the road and create even greater financial issues," he said.

Police board chairman Paul Smith said the commission didn't require pre-approval when it was created in 2000 because that's how York Township, a founding member of the police department, operated at the time.

However, Smith said he'd like to see that changed.

Moving money: In order to balance the budget, just over $200,000 will be pulled from a reserve fund as it is needed , leaving about $300,000 in the fund, said Chief Tom Gross.

Elizabeth Heathcote, manager of York Township, said that doesn't leave much in the reserve in case of an emergency.

"When the money's gone, where are they going to get the extra cash?" she said.

This isn't the first time the commission passed a budget that includes a deficit. The 2012 and 2013 budgets were approved with losses of $155,286 and $148,756, respectively, according to budget documents.

Public safety is generally the largest expense for any municipality, said Commissioner Paul Redifer, adding that the department did trim its new budget but there's nowhere else to cut.

Some of the cuts were to capital purchases, Gross said, but he hopes the department will still be able to replace aging defibrillators.

"Police department expenses go up every year and police departments are forced to cut every year," Redifer said.

No increase: Despite the deficit, member municipalities won't see increased rates in the coming year, Smith said.

But police board member Albert Granholm said rates will inevitably go up, and the board must take action to soften the blow to municipalities when it does.

York Area Regional provides service to York and Windsor townships, as well as Dallastown, Red Lion, Windsor, Jacobus, Yoe and Felton.

Granholm also took issue with using reserve money to cover the budget.

"That's a lot of money to transfer," he said. "Basically, at the end of 2014, you're nearly insolvent."

-- Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.