No tax hike in 2021, York County officials say

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The York County Board of Commissioners will not raise taxes in 2021 in spite of  severe financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said Wednesday.

With the help of federal aid to offset the costs of responding to the coronavirus pandemic and the efforts of county officials to cut operating expenses this year, York County is set to have about $10 million in surplus revenue at the end of 2020.

"We had a lot of people in the county – department heads, the county row officers – that had to make some very tough decisions earlier in the year," York County Commissioner Julie Wheeler said Wednesday.

In early April, the county placed nearly 300 employees on furlough in anticipation of plunging revenues during the first pandemic-related shutdown and also asked all department heads to pare down their operating budgets to the bare bones.

Nearly 100 employees were still furloughed as of Wednesday, Wheeler said.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, front, speaks while City of York Medical Director Dr. Matt Howie looks on at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. The recent uptick in positive COVID-19 testing, specifically at York County Prison, was addressed. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The proposed 2021 general fund budget has an $8.5 million deficit, with $236.4 million in projected expenses and only $228 million in projected revenue.

But the 2020 surplus will offset the $8.5 million deficit and allow the county to balance its budget next year without a tax increase, county administrator Mark Derr said.

The 2021 tax rate will remain at 5.9 mills. One mill is equal to 1/1000 of a dollar. For a property assessed at $100,000, the county tax bill would be $590.

Wheeler said the commissioners understand that county residents and taxpayers are going through a tough time because of the economic downturn and that raising taxes right now isn't the right move.

Derr warned, though, that the current year surplus will only go so far. When county officials start planning the budget for 2022, they'll probably have to consider either a tax increase, cuts to services or some combination of both, he said.

The state government is expected to cut its allocations to local governments next year, Derr said, which also will affect York County's bottom line.

The Board of Commissioners will vote on the final budget at the Dec. 16 meeting.

COVID-19 has hit state coffers hard — revenues in 2020 missed projections by $3.2 billion, officials have said — as well as budgets in other local governments. York City, for example, faces a tax hike up to 9.5 mills if it can't sell its wastewater treatment plant, Mayor Michael Helfrich has said.

Helfrich blamed declines in tax revenue caused by the pandemic for much of the city's shortfall. 

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