Bracey
Bracey

York City Mayor Kim Bracey stepped in front of the cameras Tuesday morning to introduce her 2013 budget proposal, a document that serves as York's annual reality check of its financial status.

For the first time since taking office in 2010, Bracey unveiled a budget balanced at about $96 million without any increase to the city's already sky-high property-tax rate. Sewer and refuse rates are also proposed to stay the same.

No significant cuts to city services, including the police and fire departments, are proposed, said Michael O'Rourke, the city's business administrator.

The plan does not include any workforce reductions, O'Rourke said.

Bracey presented her proposal on Tuesday night to the York City Council, which must approve a budget before Jan. 1.

Council members did not discuss the document but scheduled budget hearings for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27 and Thursday, Dec. 6 in council chambers at 101 S. George St. Both meetings will include time for public comment.

City property owners have seen their taxes increase by more than 30 percent since 2010. At 20.37 mills, York City's municipal tax rate is more than three times higher than the rate of the runner-up, West York.

Out of 72 municipalities in York County, only York City and five others have a tax rate of four or more mills.

Bracey cited many reasons Tuesday for the potential reprieve from the skyrocketing tax rate in 2013.

For example, department directors have held expenses at 2010 levels for the third year in a row, she said. Efforts to restructure fire-department schedules have achieved $600,000 in annual overtime savings, Bracey said.

The administration unveiled a strategy earlier this year designed to collect from a glut of overdue sewer and refuse bills. That's expected to bring in $800,000 next year, according to the mayor's budget proposal.

Difficult, sometimes controversial, decisions have put the city in the position to potentially avoid a tax increase in 2013, Bracey told the council. Those will be necessary in the future as well, she said.

"We must be adaptable to change," Bracey said.

City administrators tempered their comments Tuesday with a prediction that new financial challenges are around the corner. In 2015, O'Rourke said, the city will be required by the state to pay significantly more money into its minimum municipal obligation - an annual payment to support retired employees with a pension fund.

Next year, the MMO is actually going down by $300,000 - another reason Bracey said the city is able to avoid a tax increase.

But, in 2015, legislation that helped cities cope with the economic downturn will expire. It's too soon to tell how much of a burden that will mean for the city, O'Rourke said.

He predicted a $1 million increase as a best-case scenario.

But, O'Rourke said, he's feeling good about York's future.

"I'm optimistic that we'll make it past 2015," he said.

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.