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Proposed city budget includes 1 percent tax decrease

By Julia Scheib

On Tuesday, Mayor Kim Bracey and York City Business Administrator Michael Doweary introduced a budget that includes a one-percent municipal property tax decrease.

For taxpayers, Doweary said, this really means a .4 percent overall property-tax decrease because citizens pay property taxes to the county and the school district as well as to the city.

The current millage rate for the municipal property tax is 20.37. One percent less would be 20.16 mills. So under the new tax rate, for every $1000 in a property's value the owner would pay $20.16 to the city.

Small but important: This tax decrease is small, Mayor Kim Bracey allowed, but hugely symbolic.

The mayor recalled promising last April that she would cut city property taxes by 15 percent in the next five years. The administration is moving forward with that plan.

2016's tax cut will be followed by a two-percent cut in 2017, then a four-percent cut in 2018 and then an eight-percent cut in 2019.

Each cut will put taxes at the designated amount below the 2015 millage rate: the cuts won't be compounded, Doweary said.

Bracey stressed the importance of cutting property taxes — something York hasn't been able to do in “ten-plus years,” she said — in fostering investor confidence in the city and spurring economic development.

The city's property tax rate rose 11 percent in 2011 and 17 percent in 2012. But this will be the fourth city budget without a tax increase, Bracey said. The city's budgets for 2013-15 included no tax increases.

How they did it: The deep cuts made to the city's 2015 budget helped the administration reduce taxes for next year, Doweary said. The 2015 cuts included 36 city jobs.

"Pretty much none of that was reinstated," Doweary said of the cuts.

The 2016 budget includes no layoffs or furloughs, he said.

The proposed budget does not factor in the potential monetization of assets, like the sewer system, Bracey said.

Pension reform has helped the city balance the budget, Doweary said. And it will be instrumental in closing the budget gaps projected for future years — a report produced by the Pennsylvania Economy League projects a deficit of $3.1 million for 2020.

“We're trying to break the mold of budgeting one year at a time,” Doweary said, noting that the administration is thinking three or four years ahead.

The administration hopes that lower property taxes will spur investment in the city and grow the tax base, he said. The city is taking other measures to close the projected gaps as well.

A pension-reform deal with firefighters now in the works should close the gap projected for 2018, he said.

Rise in sewer fee: The budget includes capital improvements to the city's sewer system. More than $1 million in repairs are needed, Doweary said.

Because of this, sewer rates will rise by 6 percent, he said. Customers will pay 50 cents more per 1000 gallons.

Department of Community and Economic Development: Shilvosky Buffaloe, Interim Director of the DCED, asked that an additional full-time staff member be added to his overloaded department.

The administration came through with a compromise: "We were awarded a part-time position," Buffaloe said.

Police department: There won't be any layoffs in the police department because there are so many vacancies, York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said.

The department asked for 104 police positions. Ninety-nine positions, in all, are in the 2016 budget, he said. Five of those are covered through a federal grant.

Fire department: York City Fire Chief David Michaels said that, in terms of staffing, the department got what it asked for.

After four layoffs last year, the department was down to 52 staff members.

The 2016 budget holds the line, with 52 taxpayer-funded positions and four that are paid for through a grant.

Is there a new fire engine in the 2016 budget, as Michaels and the assistant fire chief asked for during the budgets hearings? A new engine and staff vehicle would have cost the city about $750,000.

"No, that's not in the budget," he said. "We will look for grant funding to possibly do that."

Many of the items that were slashed form the fire department's budget in 2015 have not reappeared, Michaels said.

But the department will be able to replace the roof at its headquarters, he said.

Additional hearings: Departments will have a chance to weigh in on the proposed budget at hearings on Thursday, Dec. 3 and Wednesday, Dec. 9. The hearings will take place at 6:30 each evening in the city council chambers at City Hall, 101 S. George St.

Council will take action on the budget at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15 at City Hall.

— Reach Julia Scheib at