Council meeting gets heated as West York purchases a new $200,000 facility

John Joyce

The West York Borough Council voted Monday night to spend $200,000 in capital funds to purchase a new facility to house its police department and government offices.

The meeting, during which public comments were expected regarding the collection of past due sewer bills, did not make it past the first agenda item before an emergency recess was called after Mayor Charles Wasko and Councilman Nicholas Laughman had to be separated by police.

Following the recess and a more than hourlong closed session, the motion to purchase the vacant Grace Loucks Elementary School, located at 1381 W. Poplar St., passed 4 to 3, with Wasko casting the tie-breaking vote.

Councilman Shawn Mauck, who proposed the motion, said the move would not only improve the the facilities for the police, the council and the community but would open up new revenue streams by providing space able to be leased by nonprofits, York County and other third-party agencies seeking to hold meetings or events.

"It is an elementary school that the district is no longer using," Mauck said. "It has been vacant about a year."

Mauck said the borough was able to negotiate the purchase price down from $495,000.

"Hopefully it becomes a beacon for the community to do some good things," he said.

Opposition: Laughman, along with council members Mary Wagner and Shelley Metzler, opposed the purchase of the school building without first looking for other viable spaces to purchase and comparing prices. Laughman said that while the money used to make the initial purchase would come from the borough's capital fund, he suspects taxpayers will incur future costs as a result of the purchase.

"I don't want to stick a price tag on taxpayers without knowing other options," Laughman said. "Somewhere down the road is going to be a cost to the taxpayers."

The discussion became heated when Councilman Brian Wilson accused the three council members opposing the purchase of being part of a coalition with its own agenda. Expletives were exchanged between multiple council members, culminating with Wasko and Laughman coming nose to nose and having to be separated by West York Police Chief Justin Seibel.

A more docile borough council reconvened more than an hour later having approved the school's purchase and moved on to discuss other business, including going ahead with the collection of past-due sewer bills.

Sewer bills: To date, $27,382.72 has been collected since notices first went out April 5 informing residents who were more than 45 days delinquent that they either had to pay or face imposed fees of up to $25 for each subsequent notice of delinquency. As many as 341 delinquencies remain for a total of $494,271.94 in unpaid sewer bills.

Mauck made a motion that residents with disabilities or those with limited incomes be allowed to come forward at the next council meeting with documented requests for special consideration. Each case would be considered on an individual basis, after which those residents might be allowed to pay in installments. Laughman suggested there be a requirement of at least 50 percent down from any resident seeking to be placed on a payment plan.

Mauck said the details of any potential agreement for payment plans ought to be tabled until the residents seeking payment arrangements could be heard.

"Until we really know who has the problem, what accommodations they are asking, we can't really set good policy," he said.

The meeting concluded after the council approved a motion to put the borough's current facility at 1700 W. Philadelphia St. up for sale.

The council next meets at 6 p.m. May 18.  The public is invited to attend.