York County’s top 10 stories of 2015
The soon-to-end year began with such promise: a Yorker reclaiming the governor's mansion for the first time in 60 years. Unfortunately, 2015 ended with a whimper politically — and the work in Harrisburg isn't even done. In between were inspiring, surprising, sad and frightening reports. Here are our picks for the top 10 local stories from 2015:
1. With his hand on a mid-19th century family Bible, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf took the oath of office on Jan. 20, becoming just the second York County resident to hold that office. In his inauguration speech, the Mount Wolf businessman urged the GOP-controlled Legislature to work with him to solve Pennsylvania’s problems: "We have to respect each other's ideas. We have to respect each other's values. We have to believe that none of us alone has all the answers — but that together, we can find an approach that works.”
2. As we welcome 2016, it’s clear Wolf and the GOP still haven’t found that workable approach. The governor and lawmakers broke a record for the longest budget impasse ever, a standoff that dragged on nearly six months after the budget was due July 1. Just this week, Wolf used his line-item veto power to release $23 billion in emergency funding, mostly for schools and social services, and called on lawmakers to return to Harrisburg to finish their work.
3. York County saw a spike in domestic violence in 2015: Four cases in which men murdered their domestic partners or former partners before turning their guns on themselves. In two cases, the gunman also claimed a second victim before committing suicide. Coroner Pam Gay said 2015 was expected to be the worst in the last 20 years when it comes to the number of murder-suicides in York County.
4. There was hope the record 62 heroin-related deaths in York County in 2014 was perhaps an anomaly, that 2015 would see the numbers drop significantly. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Earlier this month, Gay said there had been 48 heroin-related deaths and eight suspected heroin-related deaths. And that number could have been far greater had it not been for the widespread use of the overdose antidote Naloxone, which was successfully used by first responders more than 80 times this year.
5. 2015 was the year York City’s Royal Square project really came alive. The Bond wedding and events venue opened for business in May at 134 E. King St, part of the larger revitalization project in the block formed by King, Queen, Princess and Duke streets. Royal Square Development President and CEO Josh Hankey announced in September his company also would be repurposing the old, vacant Woolworth building and four other large downtown properties.
6. In August, York County President Common Pleas Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh removed Shrewsbury-area District Judge Jeff Joy from all court duties after Joy was charged with two counts of bribery in official and political matters, which are third-degree felonies, as well as official oppression and harassment. Joy, 50, of New Freedom had earlier been charged with the misdemeanors of official oppression and indecent assault for allegedly groping a woman whose boyfriend had appeared before Joy in court.
7. The top local sports story of 2015 was without a doubt the inspiring journey of a Red Land youth baseball team that made it all the way to the Little League World Series championship game in Williamsport during the summer. Unfortunately, Red Land fell in the finals, but the team did win the U.S. Championship — an unprecedented accomplishment for a York County team.
8. On Oct. 26, WellSpan sent letters to 1,300 patients who had open-heart surgery at York Hospital between Oct. 1, 2011, and July 24, 2015, alerting them of possible exposure to Nontuberculous mycobacteria, or NTM, which can cause lung infection, in connection with a heater-cooler device used during surgery. At the time of the release, WellSpan had identified eight patients with an NTM infection, four of whom had died. One additional infected patient has since died.
9. The new year brings a new face to the York County Board of Commissioners. Republican Susan Byrnes — well-known in the community because of her work with nonprofits -- was the top vote-getter in the November election and will replace Steve Chronister. Chronister, a three-term incumbent Republican, dropped out of the race before the primary after his nominating petition was challenged. He re-entered as an independent for the general election but failed to win another term.
10. "A perfect storm of bad things,” as York County Commissioner Chris Reilly put it, led the board to hike property taxes 14.2 percent for 2016. Among the drivers of the tax increase: Health care costs are going up $4.6 million, the county’s contribution to its pension fund is increase $2.5 million and the Children, Youth & Families budget is to increase by $1.8 million to hire more staff to handle a skyrocketing caseload.