West York could hike taxes to pay for $500K highway garage

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
The West York Boro Highway Department in West York Borough, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The West York Borough Council is considering adopting a one-mill tax increase in 2020 in order to finance a new Highway Department facility.

At a meeting Monday, Sept. 16, council members voted 4-3 to authorize borough manager Shawn Mauck to advertise an ordinance that would allow the borough to borrow $650,000 for a new building.

There was one caveat: Mauck — who also serves as the borough's treasurer, secretary and zoning officer — said the borough can't borrow the money without also adopting a dedicated tax increase to pay it back.

"You cannot afford to pay this back out of your general fund," he told council members.

The millage increase would remain in place for seven years and would be used only to pay back the loan, he said.

About $500,000 would be used for the highway garage and office space, with $45,000 earmarked to pay off a new roof already installed on the fire hall and the remainder of the loan going toward the borough's municipal pension fund obligations.

The loan, which hasn't been finalized yet, would be financed through M&T Bank.

Councilmen Richie Stahle, Alan Vandersloot and Wayne Leedy voted in favor of advertising the ordinance, with council President Mary Wagner and councilwomen Annette Christine and Mildred Tavarez voting against it.

Councilman Brian Wilson was absent, and Mayor Bruce Vick broke the tie by voting yes.

"The tax rate is too high," Christine said. "Every single person that I know that owns a home in this borough is ready to sell."

West York's general millage rate is 9.5 mills, meaning a homeowner with a property assessed at $100,000 has an annual borough tax bill of $950.

Mauck said he expects the 2020 general millage rate to increase by a quarter- to a half-mill, in addition to the dedicated one-mill tax fund for debt repayment.

That means the overall borough tax rate in 2020 could increase to 11 mills, or $1,100 on a property assessed at $100,000.

Property owners also pay 24.22 mills in school taxes to the West York School District and 5.8 mills to York County, for a total annual tax burden of 39.52 mills, or $3,952 on a property assessed at $100,000.

The only alternative to borrowing the money and passing a tax increase for a new highway building would be to disband the borough's Highway Department and outsource those services, Mauck said.

More:West York councilman: Public works building 'a safety issue'

More:No tax increase for West York district in proposed budget

Building collapse: The eastern wall of the borough's Highway Department equipment shed partially collapsed in late 2016, and the department's three employees have been working out of temporary office space when they're not out in the field.

The council already approved the purchase of a new street sweeper, Mauck said, and the Highway Department will need a new building to store it.

Wagner said the building should have been done three-and-a-half years ago and questioned why the financial burden always falls on the borough's homeowners.

"Whether it’s this year or three years ago, you still would have had to borrow the money and you still would have to pay it back," Mauck said. "You did not have the general obligation money to cover this loan even three years ago."

Mauck added that the borough would reassess its financial situation over the next few years to see if the loan could be repaid early, based on the health of the general fund, and the administration is looking into early retirements, reducing overtime and other cost-saving measures to address a multiyear budget deficit.

"We're doing everything we can to meet the mandate of council members who say 'no new taxes'," Mauck said. "But understand that in the real world, it just doesn't always work."

Although she voted against the ordinance to advertise the potential $650,000 loan, Wagner later came around to Mauck's reasoning and said disbanding the Highway Department wasn't an option.

"All of this council that is sitting here is taking the brunt of previous councils who did not do their job, and now we have to do ours," Wagner said. "As much as it pains me to increase our millage, I know that we have no other option."

If the financing is approved, Mauck said he expects the funding to be available Nov. 1 and for crews to break ground on the new building soon after.