York City officials request more staff in 2016
During this week's budget hearings, York City officials heard presentations of various departments' needs for 2016.
Three departments and one bureau requested funding for additional staff — filling vacant positions or creating new ones.
Officials will weigh departments' needs against the realities of city finances and the pressure not to raise taxes.
Department of Economic and Community Development: DECD Interim Director Shilvosky Buffaloe oversees the bureaus of housing, health, permits, planning and zoning and the Redevelopment Authority.
The department needs to add at least one full-time person to its staff of two, Buffaloe and project coordinator Nicole Davis, the interim director said Wednesday.
"There are lots of phone calls to return, lots of people interested in bringing business into the city," Buffaloe said.
In the department's budget request, the administrative assistant position is listed at $30,638.
Permits, planning and zoning: Steve Buffington, deputy director of the Bureau of Permits, Planning and Zoning, listed a request for an additional property maintenance inspector.
"We have a tremendous workload ... it's a struggle to keep up with demand," Buffington said Thursday.
Year to date, the bureau's three full-time and two part-time property maintenance inspectors have logged 15,000 activities, he said.
Staff respond to all complaints, Buffington said. But "we don't always get out there as quickly as folks would like us to," he said. The bureau must prioritize complaints according to how much of a threat is posed to residents' safety: for example, an electrical hazard inside a house would take priority over high grass and weeds on someone's property, he said.
Last fall, the bureau took over the inspection of tenant-occupied properties; before, it responded only to external complaints, Buffington said. The bureau handles these inspections through a third-party agency, he said, but if a problem isn't fixed after two inspections, the case is turned over to the bureau.
Because of this, the bureau will soon start to get an influx of complaints, Buffington said.
"My goal is that we can give full attention to quality-of-life issues (as well as those that pose a safety threat)," Buffington said.
"Permits, planning and zoning took on a huge responsibility," Mayor Kim Bracey said after Wednesday's budget hearing, saying she understands the need for more staff but isn't sure there will be room in the budget for the property maintenance inspector position.
Out of concern about burdening future generations, City Councilman Michael Helfrich is wary of adding new full-time positions to city staff.
"I do not look favorably upon any ideas that increase the pension or benefits obligations to the City of York," he said.
Fire Department: Fire Chief David Michaels said that the department now has 54 firefighters. Using a nationally recognized staffing formula, the department has determined that 64 would constitute a full staff. Having 10 more firefighters would greatly reduce overtime costs, he said. Nearly $1 million was budgeted for overtime this year.
But the department isn't asking for a full complement of firefighters.
Last year, the department started with 52 firefighters after four were laid off, Deputy Chief Chad Deardorff said after Thursday's hearing. The department was able to bring back two firefighters, and two more will be brought back under a federal grant, he said. Two years after the new firefighters start, the city will have to start paying them, the deputy chief said.
With many items such as travel, training, building and vehicle repair and electrical supplies reduced or eliminated from the budget, the department had a very tough 2015. To fill some equipment needs, it has partnered with nonprofits and companies, and it is always looking for grants, Michaels said.
Along with a request that line items eliminated in 2015 be funded again, the department requested $750,000 for a new engine and staff vehicle. The department's oldest engine is about 32 years old, he said.
To avoid a large tax increase, business administrator Michael Doweary recommended that the department work with city officials to create a plan for capital improvements.
Police Department: After half the York City Police Department's patrol officers faced the threat of being laid off last year, it lost 11 of its staff and is now down to 93 officers.
A grant will cover the staffing of five vacant positions that would have been eliminated through attrition, and the department is asking the city to cover four others. This means the city would pay the salaries of 97 officers out of the 102 the department ultimately wants to have.
Capt. Steve Butler explained that in order to have prospective trainees start classes in January, the department needs to begin the hiring process in December or earlier. If the budget is passed at the last minute, he said, the department will have to wait until summer to fill the vacant positions.
"It takes 10 months to a year to fill a spot," he said.
Meanwhile, Butler said, two more officers will probably leave the force by January, and it will be down to 91.
— Reach Julia Scheib at email@example.com.