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West York mulls major changes in face of big budget shortfall
The way West York borough council president Garrett Wampler sees it, there are really only three viable options for his cash-strapped municipality: raise property taxes by 4 or 5 mills, figure out some way to save half a million dollars through cuts to police and fire, or merge West York with one of the surrounding municipalities.
"To me, there's nothing off the table," he said after offering up those three ideas during a spirited borough council meeting Monday night.
The council decided all seven members would have until their Aug. 17 meeting to ready their ideas of how to deal with what Wampler has calculated to be a $450,000 to $500,000 budget gap looming for 2016.
The plan for that meeting is to whittle the ideas down to three, which the council will present to residents at a town hall meeting they'll schedule for after that. Then, the council may vote on a final decision or put it to a referendum in November, Wampler said during the meeting.
Options: He said he doesn't think there are any viable alternatives to the three options he laid out. And he doesn't even think all of his options are good — just that they're the only things that could balance what he projects to be a $2.9 million budget for 2016.
For example, he is adamantly against the 5-mill tax increase; he said he doesn't think the people of West York could take on a $500-per-year property tax hike, which would be about a 40 percent increase.
"If our taxes go up that much, it's only a matter of time until my house is on sale," he said.
Councilman Brian Wilson said during the meeting that he wouldn't support any more cuts to the services the borough provides. He advocated for a 2-mill tax hike, which he sought last year, too, when he was council president.
"We didn't do nothing" to address the borough's financial issues in past years, he said. "Now we have to pay the reaper."
The council voted to raise taxes by 1 mill for 2015, bumping the local property tax rate to 7.5 mills. That's the third-highest in the county, after York City and North York. The owner of a house worth $100,000 has to pay $100 for each mill the borough levies for a total tax bill of $750.
West York is bordered by York City and West Manchester Township, and it's a merger with the latter that could benefit the borough, Wampler said.
"A merger with West Manchester Township could be the best long-term solution," he said.
He said he hasn't explored the logistics of doing so and hasn't talked to other municipalities about it.
Other ideas: As she left the meeting, council vice president Shelley Metzler said she had been in contact with state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, who represents the borough; she is looking into grants the borough could receive, she said.
Councilwoman Mary Wagner said she had some ideas but was waiting until the August meeting to speak about them at more length.
The reason for this year's big shortfall is that the funds the borough had been using to balance the budget have largely run dry. They came from returns on money the borough has invested, a strategy that worked fine when the market was good, Wampler has said, but isn't sustainable since the 2008 crash and ensuing sluggish economy.
As is the case with many municipal budgets, emergency services eat up the lion's share of West York's expenses. West York has its own police department, for which it budgeted more than $1.3 million in 2015, plus an additional $212,000 in pension costs. That's more than half of the general-fund expenses the borough pays out.
— Reach Sean Philip Cotter at firstname.lastname@example.org.