York City Council members might not always agree, but they do seem to get along.

Meetings are business-like, and if there's any animosity it's not apparent.

That's worth noting because it wasn't always the case.

So we took notice last week when Mayor Kim Bracey likened a council decision to "a slap in the face."

That sounded awfully personal.

Was this a return to the bad old days when a council meeting might be marked by a verbal attack or bathroom scuffle?

After learning a bit more about the issue, we don't think so.

Bracey's "slap" was the council's refusal to consider her proposal to give Police Chief Wes Kahley a $2,300 merit raise.

"My chief is deserving of a 2.5 percent raise. Period," the mayor said last week.

No argument here.

And we suspect there are plenty of employees in both the public and private sectors who deserve more than they're making.

But it comes down the employers' ability to pay.

City law requires approval from the council before the mayor can increase one of her directors' salaries, and the members say now is not the time to hand out raises – even for an employee as well-respected as the police chief.

The already financially strapped city is facing a $2 million increase next year in pension obligations, and taxpayers can't afford to pay any more. City residents have by far the highest tax rate in the county, and have absorbed a string of steep tax increases in recent years.


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"It's more of a slap in the face to the people of York to be spending money that we don't have," Councilman Michael Helfrich said of the raise dispute.

Besides, he and other council members said, Kahley's $94,000 salary isn't out of line with what 16 chiefs make in other third-class cities and other York County departments.

They reached that conclusion after reviewing a spreadsheet Bracey herself provided.

"I think there are a couple that were oddly high in their salary," Councilman David Satterlee said. "But, overall, (Kahley's) seemed in the range of a police chief for a city of our size."

The mayor argues the money is available, since the city budgeted $89,000 in 2014 for potential increases to non-union employees' salaries.

Just because the money is there, however, doesn't mean the city should spend it — even if they'd like to.

"I'm not saying (Kahley) doesn't deserve it," Councilwoman Renee Nelson explained. "I'm just saying, at this point, it's not financially an appropriate business decision."

Nelson had a good suggestion to avoid these type of disputes in the future: Make any salary increase part of the annual budget season – not in the middle of a year. That's the obvious time — when everyone is carefully studying both sides of the city's ledger — to weigh any discretionary spending.

The decision doesn't seem like a personal jab at the mayor; it looks more like council members being careful stewards of the city's dollars.