York County commissioner candidates talk duty, money at debate


The five candidates for three York County commissioner positions all tried to make their pitches to the voters of York County during a debate Tuesday night, exactly three weeks before the general election.

Incumbents Steve Chronister, Chris Reilly and Doug Hoke and challengers Susan Byrnes and Henry Nixon took part in the debate, which was sponsored by The York Dispatch and the York County Economic Alliance at the Jewish Community Center in Spring Garden Township.

Reilly and Byrnes, a longtime nurse who founded the Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center, are Republicans, and Hoke and Nixon, a York City councilman, are Democrats. Current President Commissioner Chronister originally ran as a Republican, but he withdrew from the Republican primary after a challenge to signatures on his nomination petition; he will be on the Nov. 3 ballot as an independent.

During introductions, the incumbents cited their experience — Hoke is running for a third term, Chronister a fourth and Reilly a fifth, though his aren't consecutive — and the challengers said the county needs "a new voice," in Byrnes' words.

Children and Youth: Moderator Christina Kauffman, the Dispatch's managing editor, then started off the rounds of questions with a query about whether the candidates want to increase funding to the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families following an upswing in cases.

All the candidates stressed how important the organization is but had different ideas of what to do with it.

Chronister, the first to answer, said much of the issue lies in Harrisburg; there's too much unnecessary paperwork required from state and local governments, he said, though some changes should be made in terms of personnel.

"Frankly, we have some bad managers" in various governmental organizations, he said.

Byrnes and Hoke both talked about how they liked the new management of the agency. Byrnes said she will "do all I possibly can," while Hoke stated he'd "do whatever I can as commissioner" to support the agency.

Reilly said there were "significant problems" with the functioning of the department, thanks to the huge jump in the caseload, which is largely thanks to increased reporting requirements in recent years.

Nixon said he thinks enough savings are available in other places of the county's nearly $500 million budget that can be used instead to beef up this agency.

Duty to city?: Kauffman also asked the candidates what responsibilities the county has to York City.

As they were for much of the night, Byrnes and Hoke were largely in agreement, despite being on opposite sides of the political aisle. Neither committed to specific measures, but both said they would like to put together a committee to investigate some "creative" ways the county could help the city out, as Byrnes said.

"I would be in favor of some resources," Hoke said.

Nixon, the city councilman, said the county has to do much more to support the city. He said the county has an obligation to, and "trouble looms" for the whole county if it doesn't.

Reilly, who repeatedly touted his fiscal conservatism, staked a very different position.

"I think (York County) does an excellent job supporting the city" as is, he said. He said it would be "bad public policy" to "subsidize" the city.

Chronister said it'd be most important to help out the city's school district, though "we (the county) don't have extra money lying around," so it'd be tough.

Crossing swords: The sharpest words between candidates came on a question about the amount of hours the incumbents put into the job and the challengers think they would put into being commissioner.

All, of course, said they would work hard, and that it's a full-time job.

But Byrnes challenged Reilly, saying she's heard from many York countians that they haven't met Reilly before, and they haven't seen him at local events.

"I have not seen Commissioner Reilly" at any events as she's been campaigning, either, Byrnes said.

Reilly disputed those claims and told her or anyone questioning him in that regard to call his office and get his full schedule.

"All's they have to do is call my office tomorrow," he said.

Vote: York County's registered voters will be able to vote for two commissioner candidates during the Tuesday, Nov. 3, general election. The top three vote-getters will win the three seats.

In 2016, when those elected take office, the president commissioner will make $89,730 annually, and the other two commissioners will be paid $86,525 each.

— Reach Sean Cotter at scotter@yorkdispatch.com.