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York City Council passes budget with tax cut

Julia Scheib
505-5439/@JuliaDispatch

The York City Council finally approved the 2016 budget Monday after passing amendments to balance it after $450,000 in projected revenue was removed earlier this month.

The budget now totals $42,998,155.

There will be no increase in sewer fees for city residents, the council kept a 1 percent property-tax decrease, and no city jobs that are currently filled were eliminated. But Business Administrator Michael Doweary and others said the actions might have an impact on some services and on York's financial health in the coming years.

Michael Helfrich

On Dec. 15, council members voted down a 6 percent increase in sewer fees, projected to raise $300,000 for improvements to the sewer system, and also rejected a plan for the city to begin claiming the share of a realty transfer tax it now cedes to the York City School District. The latter item accounted for $150,000 in revenue for the second half of 2016.

The move to nix the sewer-fee increase, which would have upped the rate 50 cents per 1,000 gallons, was spearheaded by City Councilman Michael Helfrich, who argued people with bigger families and less valuable homes would end up paying more to live in the city, even with the tax cut.

"The bottom line is that those that use more water — families — will bear the brunt of this (fee increase)," he said earlier this month.

Balancing the budget: Council members worked with the administration and department directors to find ways to boost the city budget by $450,000, eventually passing 10 amendments to reduce expenditures and raise revenue.

The bulk of the savings came from the source of the earlier friction: the sewer budget.

The council reduced the line item for engineering costs by $50,000 and cut funding for sewer replacement costs by $125,000. Those cuts could happen, Helfrich said, because bids on several sewer improvement projects came in below what was expected.

City Business Administrator Michael Doweary expressed concern about the likelihood that some projects to improve to the aging system will now be pushed into future years. He worried that postponing needed improvements could lead to increased future costs.

After the meeting he drew a comparison to automobile maintenance.

"If you decide not to change the oil in your car, you're going to have to replace the engine," he said.

The council also removed $25,000 in overtime costs from the wastewater treatment plant's budget and $40,000 in building repair costs from the same part of the budget.

Human Relations Commission: Like the reductions in the sewer budget, reductions in the city's budget for the Human Relations Commission (HRC), which aims to protect the civil rights of city residents by enforcing the city's anti-discrimination ordinance, also met with some resistance.

The council passed amendments to reduce the HRC's budget for staff salaries and associated costs by 25 percent, for a total decrease of $20,724.

The HRC has two staff members: an administrative intake support specialist and an investigator. Helfrich said the commission has been encouraged to become more self-sustaining in past years, and he hoped the community would turn out to support the commission in its fundraising efforts.

Ken Woerthwein, one of the commissioners, said the commission has not received federal funding in the past six years, but some grant funds may soon become available. In addition, there is an HRC fundraiser planned for Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Yorktowne Hotel.

The council also reduced salary and associated costs for the Department of Economic and Community Development by $71,478. The decrease amounts to slightly more than the salary for the deputy director in the mayor's proposed budget, which also included a director at a salary of $82,110.

Doweary said he was concerned the department is stretched thin and needs more staff. Interim Director Shilvosky Buffaloe oversees economic and community development, the Bureau of Health, Permits, Planning and Zoning and the Bureau of Housing Services, effectively leaving the DECD with just one other employee, Doweary said.

Resolution: At the end of Monday's meeting, which lasted about an hour, Councilman David Satterlee and Helfrich defended the actions of the council in amending the mayor's proposed budget, saying the legislative body was simply doing what it needed to do in order to best serve the citizens of York.

"Friction is what polishes things," Helfrich said. "I want to thank everyone for working together and doing a great job on this."

— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.