West York borough holds line on taxes, cuts paid firefighters
West York will not renew its contract with the borough's paid firefighters at Reliance Fire Co. after the contract expires in August, per a resolution from the borough council.
The council voted 4-3 Monday in favor of the resolution to cut expenses and balance the 2021 budget after rejecting two proposals that included tax increases.
"There’s no will to raise revenue, and you can't bankrupt the place next year, which is where you’d head if you didn’t make any adjustments," borough manager Shawn Mauck said.
Two full-time and four part-time drivers will be affected, and the fire company will become an all-volunteer company with an annual contribution from the borough to support its services.
The drivers' collective bargaining contract expires after Aug. 31, 2021, and they will still have jobs until then.
Volunteer firefighters, including West York Borough Public Works Director John Love, will be able to step in and drive the fire trucks if necessary, Mauck said.
Council President Mary Wagner and council members Wayne Leedy, Alan Vandersloot and Regina Scott voted for the cuts, while members Linda Heiner, Lisa Gross and Mildred Tavarez were opposed.
On Oct. 5, the borough council voted twice on a measure to furlough one part-time driver at the fire department, and both votes ended in a 3-3 tie.
Mayor Bruce Vick broke both ties with a "no" vote, stating he didn't think the borough should lose its trained drivers without a plan for how the borough would provide the same 24-hour coverage.
After Monday's vote to cut the paid firefighters, Vick tried to veto the measure, but Mauck told him he didn't have the authority to veto a resolution.
Gross said she thought the council was being shortsighted by disbanding the paid fire department to solve a temporary budget problem.
She cited national and state-level trends showing the drop in volunteers signing up as firefighters and said she isn't sure the fire company will be able to provide the same level of service.
"I think we’re making a very rash decision based on numbers that could improve dramatically by the beginning of the year," Gross said.
But Mauck said it would be a big gamble to assume the economy won't take another hit from COVID-19 next year, and that the borough doesn't have the resources to maintain the status quo if there's a repeat of what happened this year because of the virus.
Revenue streams have plummeted at the borough in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and West York isn't the only municipality in that situation, Vandersloot said.
The borough's real estate tax collections are down about $200,000; occupancy permit fees are down about $20,000; and fines, fees and penalty payments are also down about $20,000, Mauck said.
The borough is also owed several hundred thousand dollars in outstanding resident refuse payments.
Payroll cuts will be required across the board to make the final 2021 budget possible, Mauck said.
Before approving the cuts to the fire department, the council rejected two proposals to raise taxes by a half-mill and a quarter-mill, and instead unanimously voted to advertise a final proposed budget of $3.88 million with no tax increase.
The overall millage rate in the borough is 11 mills, comprising 10 mills in the general fund and 1 mill dedicated to a sinking fund to pay off a $650,000 loan the borough took out last year for a new public works complex and other debt servicing.
At 11 mills, the tax bill on a property assessed at $100,000 is $1,100.