Council votes down new funds for York City treasurer

Sean Philip Cotter
  • The city treasurer called this an "emergency" situation.
  • Council members voted not to award the office more money.

Two hours of discussion at Tuesday night's York City Council meeting about the "emergency" situation the city treasurer's office is facing ended with no concrete resolution in sight.

Treasurer Joe Jefcoat had sought an increase of $20,000 from the city for temporary help to handle what's going to be a busy time next month, but after a series of arguments, amendments and votes, no further money was allocated before the council broke for summer recess.

York City treasurer seeks more money

Jefcoat said after the meeting he doesn't know what's going to happen now. He said without significant help, his office will fall behind on sending out tax bills and dealing with some of the programs it administers.

"I don't know what we're going to do," he said after the meeting.

He said delinquent bills due April 15 enter the penalty phase Wednesday, June 15, and then the school district's fiscal year ends June 30, so his office needs extra help, as it usually has during these busy times of the year.

York City business administrator Michael Doweary, who represented city administration at the council meeting and challenged Jefcoat and the council several times about the numbers the treasurer presented, said his five-member office would look at lending some help to the treasurer's office. But he had some concerns about that, too.

"It's skilled labor," Doweary said after the meeting, adding that work in the treasurer's office is not something you can plug someone into without training.

The job of treasurer is a directly elected city position that's independent from the mayor's administration and council. It handles tax-collection duties dealing with York City residents for the city, county and city school district. Jefcoat's department also administers some special tax abatement programs such as LERTA and RETAP.

Jefcoat was just elected to his first four-year term as treasurer. In the city's 2016 budget, he's a part-time city employee making $28,000 a year; the office also has two full-time workers: a deputy treasurer and a clerk.

Jefcoat said he's been working full-time hours this year, which he no longer can afford to do.

He said the $20,000 would go to hiring contract workers to temporarily help out when the office is particularly busy, as workers there have been lately around tax time. He said $30,000 was budgeted to that end last year, but the funding was cut as a cost-saving measure this year.

The 2016 York City budget passed at the end of December came out to about $99 million, including a general fund of $43 million.

Jefcoat said his department previously underestimated the amount of money coming in from the school district and county, so they can use that unbudgeted surplus to cover most of the costs. Council vice president Michael Helfrich, who did much of the talking and figuring on the council's end during the meeting, embraced the idea of using that money; he and Jefcoat said it would amount to a little more than $16,000. Helfrich said the other $3,700 or so could come from unbudgeted money from the realty-transfer tax the city moved to begin collecting this year. He believed $32,000 in revenue from that tax had gone unbudgeted.

Doweary disagreed; he said all of the money from that tax had been earmarked.

"I know that $32,000 doesn't exist," Doweary told council.

York City Council passes realty transfer tax

During the meeting's second hour of discussion about the issue, Doweary had a somewhat esoteric but important question: If they're talking about taking money coming in and budgeting it to be spent, isn't that a budget amendment? If so, the council can't just pass a resolution making it immediately happen — the members would need to introduce a bill that would need to wait until the next meeting for them to vote on.

The meeting ground to a standstill as assistant city solicitor Jason Sabol took out his phone and began perusing the state's third-class city code for an answer. After about 10 minutes, he said it seemed as though adding to the treasurer's budget would in fact need to be a bill and not a resolution.

But, it was decided, the council would try passing it as a resolution anyway, with some wording in the legislation saying it was pending deeper research by the solicitor.

With the uncertainty over the revenue sources and legality of the motion in question, council members voted down the resolution's main amendment, 4-1, with Helfrich providing the lone "yea" vote. The members then unanimously voted down the motion without that amendment, ending the issue for the night.

Helfrich on the fly drew up that amendment, the third the council had considered that evening, coming after one Helfrich introduced and then withdrew, and then a minor one that passed.

"This is no way to make legislation," councilman Henry Nixon said before the vote.

Helfrich countered: "Then what are we supposed to do, sir?" He said he's the only one who has tried to make progress on this issue.

"Not successfully, apparently," Nixon said.

The next council meeting is Tuesday, July 19; that's the next time the council will be able to do anything about the issue. But if the only course of action involved a budget amendment, as Doweary pointed out, nothing can be passed into law until the following meeting on Aug. 19. The council normally meets every first and third Tuesday of the month, but that drops to once a month during the summer.

City treasurer Joe Jefcoat addresses the York City Council.

— Reach Sean Cotter atscotter@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.