The good news for York City taxpayers is there won't be more bad news come Jan. 1.

That is, if one believes Michael O'Rourke.

The city's business administrator is "100 percent" certain there will be no municipal property tax increase in the 2013 budget, which must be approved by the end of the year.

"The mayor has decreed that there will be no tax increase," O'Rourke said last week after the first of five budget hearings, during which department heads are presenting their spending plans to the city council.

That's a relief for taxpayers, who were hit with a 17 percent hike this year, in addition to an 8.5 percent increase in school property taxes for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

There's no word on whether the York City school board will follow suit. The district's budget isn't due until next summer, although it needs to know by the end of the year if it might need to seek exceptions to go over a state-imposed tax cap.

It's not clear if it's even possible for the school board to make such a pledge.

The city and its district are in different boats.

The school district relies heavily on state funding, which has been drastically cut over the past two years. It has eliminated positions and programs, but still has had to raise taxes. And there comes a point where cutting more will have dire consequences for a district already struggling academically.


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The city administration has more options, and to its credit has pursued them this year with a focus not seen in quite a while.

First, it went after a mountain of unpaid sewer and trash-collection bills -- $18 million -- that accrued over the years, threatening to shut off the water to those properties whose owners didn't pay up.

The effort yield $880,000 this year in overdue bills from nearly 1,500 city property owners who settled their balance or set up payment plans.

Next, the city launched a coordinated plan to persuade nonprofits to pay their fair share. Thirty-seven percent of all city property in the city -- valued at $400 million -- is owned by nonprofit organizations and is therefore tax-exempt, even though they require and use the same services as everyone else.

City Councilman Henry Nixon and Kevin Schreiber, the city's economic and community development director, spent six months creating a database of tax-exempt properties, owners, contact information or assessed values.

Then a committee of stakeholders was formed to share fundraising duties, which entailed asking the owners of almost every tax-exempt property in York City to voluntarily donate 25 percent of what their municipal tax bill would be if they were taxed. Their instructions were to be specific and persistent.

If successful, the campaign will add more than $2 million to the 2013 budget.

Yes, these are things the city should have been doing all along. But the administration is doing it now, and that's something to be commended.

So is the current council's attention to the city's pocket book. Whereas some on previous councils seemed to feel money was no object, these council members are indicating that's a thing of the past.

When bids for the work to convert the old city hall to a modern police headquarters came in more over $5 million -- the amount of a state grant for the project -- the council said it wouldn't pay a penny more and requested new bids.

No surprise: They came in less than $5 million.

Hopefully the council pays as much attention to change orders, which have the potential to push the project over budget.

Overall, these are welcome changes, which, if O'Rourke is right, are paying off.