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West York excuses some of seniors' bills

Sean Philip Cotter

After voting Monday night to give seniors $100 off any sewer debts, West York's borough council discussed immediately repealing that motion, and then discussed giving seniors potentially more money.

For the moment, at least, despite arguments for both lower and much higher amounts, the borough council is sticking with giving resident homeowners older than 60 $100 off any debts they've accrued for the borough's sewer services and garbage collection.

People wishing to get some relief on the sewer debt they owe have to "self-identify" — they have to come to the borough offices with proof of age, residence and homeownership in the borough, according to the motion. This break can only be applied to money they already owe.

The move comes after a year in which the borough has taken a more aggressive stance on collecting bills for those services. Council president Shawn Mauck said the borough has brought in about $400,000 this year in those unpaid fees. In addition to that money coming in, the borough is completing a sale of its sewer system to York Water Co., which will take over operations in January.

The $1 million or so that the borough has in its sewer fund then will be available to be used for whatever purpose the borough wishes, Mauck said.

In light of that, during Monday's borough council meeting in the council chambers at 1381 W. Poplar St., Mauck introduced the idea of taking a chunk of that money and using it to give the borough's senior homeowners a respite to the more aggressive collection. The motion, which ultimately passed 6-1, exonerates any debts of up to $100 and gives anyone who owes more than $100 that much of a break on their debt, he said.

"This is to give the seniors a little bit of relief," Mauck said.

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Criticism: When it was brought up, the idea was met immediately by criticism from opposite sides.

Councilwoman Mary Wagner, who said she's over 60 and is up to date with her payments, said she had a few questions she knew residents would be asking, such as could it be seen as rewarding bad behavior because it only helps people who haven't been paying their bills.

"Why do we have to give the other ones a break if we're not getting one?" she said. "It's not fair to me or the next person who pays theirs."

Despite raising that thought, Wagner voted in favor of the motion, even though her husband, Rich, first said "no" from the audience loudly enough that Mauck had to tell him to be quiet during the vote.

During the continuing discussion after the motion passed, councilwoman Shelley Metzler raised concerns about how little the borough knew about how much money this would result in it giving back. Borough solicitor Margaret Driscoll said the council members could pass another motion repealing the one they'd just OK'd, but no one made a motion to that effect.

Paying the bills: Mauck maintained that "we're not talking about a whole lot of money here," but said it would be impossible to know how many people would come forward for the $100 exoneration.

He said the debt relief also might be a good way to bring in some more people to pay their bills — for example, if someone owes $500 and comes in to claim the $100 off, they might be more likely to pay the remaining $400, which the borough hadn't gotten up to that point.

Melissa Wirls, the borough manager, didn't weigh in either way on any of the discussions but did bring up the borough's enforcement efforts and the people who have come in to pay the money. She said one "older gentleman" said he'd been coming in every year and just paying the borough $1 so it would leave him alone. When told that wouldn't be possible this year, he left and then came back with the full amount he owed.

"He readily admitted: 'I just didn't want to pay,'" she said.

He wasn't the only one who had that kind of approach, she said.

"One gentleman told (the borough secretary) she had just ruined his vacation by making him pay," she said.

She said some of the residents do owe thousands of dollars in unpaid fees.

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Too little: The only one who voted against the $100 idea was councilman Brian Wilson, who thought that amount was too little.

"If we're gonna do it, let's do it the right way," he said. He mentioned the idea of exonerating everybody's unpaid sewer fees, and then talked about merely raising the exoneration from $100 to $1,000.

Wilson's proposal ended up being that no senior resident homeowners in the borough would have to pay their sewer bill during the final quarter of 2016. The council agreed to have Driscoll get in touch with York Water Co. to find out the company's thoughts and have the company look further into how much that might cost the borough.

West York's borough council.  From left, council members Mary Wagner and Brian Wilson, vice president Richie Stahle Jr., president Shawn Mauck, borough manager Melissa Wirls and council member Annette "Chickie" Christine.

The borough council's next meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, in the municipal offices at 1381 W. Poplar St., which is the building that used to be Grace Loucks Elementary School.

— Sean Cotter covers York City for The York Dispatch. Contact him or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.