York City Council president to challenge mayor

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

A day after York City Mayor Kim Bracey announced her campaign for re-election, City Council President Michael Helfrich threw his hat into the race for her seat.

Helfrich is finishing his fifth year on the council, while Bracey is coming to the end of her second four-year term at the helm of city government.

York City Council President Michael Helfrich pleads for the BMA of York and the York NAACP to help guide children in how to respond to racisim during a meeting at Crispus Attaucks, Tuesday, November 22, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

As a city councilman, Helfrich said he has very little to do with the day-to-day operations of the city. But as mayor, “I believe I can actually help improve people’s lives,” Helfrich said.

“Eventually you realize that the only way that you can really change the details of how the city is run is by being the person in charge,” Helfrich said of his decision to seek the mayor’s office.

Though Bracey and her administration have done some good work, a lot more needs to be done to help the people of the city, particularly in dealing with some of the social issues that lead to crime and discontent, Helfrich said.

“We as a city, and as a city government, could be and should be spending more effort to help the kids of the city, giving them things to do, giving them support, so that they’re not as likely to turn to the streets and be creating a new generations of criminals,” Helfrich said. “We should be helping our teens learn about life, learn life skills so they can have a prosperous life, and we should be helping and taking care of our grandparents, many of whom are now in a position where they can hardly afford to maintain their homes.”

Helfrich said he wants to make the city government more accessible and transparent for city residents and the media, lamenting the amount of time the current administration spends dealing with media requests for public information.

“Unless there is a good reason that we are protecting an employee or protecting a specific police policy, there’s no reason why we need to have this many Right-to-Know requests,” Helfrich said. “The work of the government is publicwork, and the people and the press should have access to it.”

City finances have stabilized somewhat, and the city was able to meet its pension obligations for 2016 after re-negotiating labor contracts with the police and firefighters’ unions, according to the latest budget. But “the next five years are going to make or break York,” Helfrich said.

“We have to prove that what we are doing to try and reduce taxes and improve the city is not a stunt based on having a couple years of extra money to pay down some (debts),” Helfrich said.

Bracey and Helfrich have had their differences over the last year, including in the debate over reducing property taxes while raising sewer and refuse fees.

Bracey plans to cut property taxes 15 percent by 2020 and has proposed a 2 percent cut for 2017. To pay for the tax cut, Bracey has proposed increases in sewer and refuse collection fees for city residents, something Helfrich fought against during last year’s budget negotiations.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey presents her administration's 2017 budget to the York City Council.

Helfrich argues that the fee increases will impact many of the lower-income families in the city who rent their homes and won’t feel any effect from property tax cuts.

Bracey argues that the property tax cut will encourage growth in investments in the city, commercial and residential.

Bracey’s budget is now in the hands of City Council, which is set to vote Tuesday on the proposal. The vote could be the first showdown between the two city officials vying for the mayor’s office.

Bracey and Helfrich, both Democrats, will face off in the municipal primary May 16.