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West York considers tax hike to close budget gap
After an hour-and-a-half-long executive session, the West York borough council president offered up a set of budget ideas that would seek to close the impending budget gap by hiking taxes, a very different tack from what he had been advocating.
Garrett Wampler and borough manager Kathy Altland have estimated West York is on track to face an approximately $500,000 budget shortfall for next year.
In Monday's meeting, Wampler proposed that gap be filled by raising municipal property taxes by 1 mill in 2016 and then making up the rest of the deficit — about $370,000 after that, he said — with the revenue from the expected sale of the town's municipal sewer system.
He said the borough would be on track to raise taxes by about another mill during each of the next couple of years; after that, the borough would no longer have a deficit and could stop depleting the sewer fund, which is how it has balanced its budget for the past several years. That would likely end up with the borough levying 10.5 mills by 2018.
Those further tax increases after this year would be at the discretion of those years' councils. Wampler's term is up this year, and he isn't running again.
Change: This is a sharp departure from the strategies Wampler floated in previous meetings. In July, he said the borough had several options on the table: merge with West Manchester Township, cut services such as fire and police or raise taxes significantly. He said he opposed the kind of tax increases necessary to balance the budget.
But after West Manchester Township turned down the idea of a merger and some other council members and residents voiced objections to the idea of cutting services, the council president came back with some new ideas.
Monday's budget proposal, which will be further discussed by the council at its next meeting 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19, at the municipal building at 1700 E. Philadelphia St., also includes some other cost-saving methods, such as eliminating a janitorial position.
After the meeting, Wampler said he doesn't think raising taxes is a good idea as the main method of covering the gap.
"It's a sliding thing," he said after the meeting. "You have to hold your belt."
Options: Former councilman Shawn Mauck was in attendance and called the ideas "half-baked" because the council wasn't considering using municipal bonds to cover the deficit. He and Wampler argued back and forth for a few minutes, with Wampler saying he wasn't in favor of using bonds, as that just pushes the deficit off to future councils.
Brian Wilson said his goals all along have been to pas a budget that doesn't cut fire, police or administrative services.
"You know where I stand on this," he said.
Councilwoman Mary Wagner declined comment on Wampler's budget ideas after the meeting.
Wampler said the executive session, which at times included two lawyers, West York Police Chief Justin Seibel and a member of the fire department meeting with the council, covered "personnel matters."
Wampler said he couldn't comment on such matters or on discussions the borough is having with the police union, though he confirmed they were ongoing. The council and police officers have previously spoken in meetings of lowering the cost of the borough's police force by renegotiating some parts of the union contract.
Sewer: The borough hopes to sell its municipal sewer system for somewhere around $1 million, Wampler said. During one of the August council meetings, York Water Co. CEO Jeffrey Hines approached the council with the idea of selling the sewer system. The council unanimously liked the idea and at that meeting voted to put the system out for bid, as has to happen in order to sell it. Wampler said Monday that they'll receive bids up to the start of November.
He said nothing has happened to indicate York Water's interest has changed.
A 1-mill property tax hike would require the owner of a home valued at $100,000 to pay $100 more per year than the person's currently paying. Right now, West York levies 7.5 mills in taxes on its residents; around York County, that's behind only North York at 8 mills and York City at 20.37 mills.
— Reach Sean Cotter at email@example.com.