York City police, fire ask for budget increases
The York City police and fire departments have learned to live within their means over the last few years.
At Monday night’s 2017 budget hearing in York City Council chambers, York City Police Chief Wes Kahley asked the four-member city council for a 2 percent increase over 2016 funding levels, while York City Fire Chief David Michaels requested a budget increase of just under 10 percent. The majority of the departments' requested funding increases are because of contractual obligations such as insurance and pension contributions.
Former Council President Carol Hill-Evans resigned from the council last week after winning a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Police: Chief Kahley acknowledged the financial constraints that have been placed on his department but focused on highlighting some of its achievements over the last year.
“This year, as every year, we tried to keep the budget in line with previous years to make sure that the spending stays down, but we still continue to provide the services we need to to the community,” Kahley said.
The proposed York City Police budget includes an additional $357,000 over 2016 levels. Though the police pension line-item is down $344,000, the department expects to pay an additional $158,000 in salaries and wages, an extra $149,000 in insurance fees and $55,000 more for central services allocations, while business administration costs are projected to rise by more than $15,000.
Even with the financial limitations, overall crime levels in York City are at a 29-year low, Kahley said. The body camera program that has been implemented departmentwide has been a “great success,” Kahley said, helping to solve crimes and address complaints from the public.
However, crime statistics for the first seven months of 2016 show a 13 percent spike in violent and serious crimes, Kahley said, though total crime was down 1.74 percent.
“I think there’s some very significant numbers that show the impact that our neighborhood enforcement units have on the areas that they’re in,” Kahley said.
After some manpower issues, the department was able to return neighborhood units to their posts in October, allowing officers to be visible and proactive in their communities, Kahley said.
Citing crime statistics from 2011 — when neighborhood units were first put in place — to 2015, Kahley said crime levels are down across all neighborhoods in the city, including a 62 percent drop in the northeast and a 44 percent drop in the west end.
The department is two officers short of what it is budgeted for, and officials are building a succession plan for officers who are due to retire in the next three years, Kahley said. After accepting an application, it takes 10 months to put a new officer on the streets, Kahley said.
Fire: Chief Michaels said the York City Fire Department continues to be mindful of the city’s financial situation and attempted to hold costs associated with providing emergency services in line with 2016 levels.
“We continue to face the challenges of the complex operation of the department in response to the needs of our citizens,” Michaels said. “We do this while maintaining fiscal responsibility.”
Michaels requested an overall budget increase around $1 million over 2016 levels, though much of that increase was required by contractual obligations. The fire pension line-item for 2017 included mandated increases of almost $657,000 over 2016 levels, while insurance allocations rose by $166,120.
The department will have 56 positions in 2017, the same as in 2016, Michaels said. Fifty-two of those firefighters will be paid more than $7.6 million from taxpayer funds, while four positions are covered through the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program.
Michaels requested $950,000 in overtime pay for 2017, though business administrator Michael Doweary said the department requested an equal amount for 2016 that has been surpassed. Much of the additional overtime fees during 2016 were caused by heavy winter storms at the beginning of the year, Michaels said.
The request for overtime could be brought down by hiring new firefighters, Michaels said.
“The positions are filled,” Michaels said. “It’s just right now we’re filling them with the overtime.”
The chief asked for $70,000 to spend on vehicle repairs in order to keep the city’s aging fire trucks running. The department deferred preventative maintenance on many of its vehicles after taking a “substantial hit” on the vehicle repairs line-item in 2016, Michaels said, noting that one fire truck tire costs $500.
Michaels also requested $70,000 to repair the leaking roof of Station 1 on South Duke Street and to install upgraded security and surveillance systems at each of the city’s four fire stations.
The York City Fire Department has fielded almost 2,700 calls in 2016 as of Monday morning and is on pace to respond to more than 3,000 calls by the end of year, Michaels said. In 2016, the department has taken 713 calls for rescue/medical emergencies, 648 false-alarm calls, 591 good-intent calls and 250 calls for fires, ranging from trash fires to major structure fires, Michaels said.
Last week, the council heard from the departments of public works, economic and community development and business administration, while also taking budget requests from elected and appointed officials.
Council President Michael Helfrich said a balanced budget can be done by the end of the year, but the council and Mayor Kim Bracey must look at how to pay for certain items.
“We’re in a similar situation that we found ourselves in last year, where there is a deep desire to decrease the taxes, but at the same time there is a proposal on the table from the administration to raise the sewer fees very significantly,” Helfrich said.
Bracey said her administration is “definitely on track” for a balanced budget, which will be presented at Tuesday night’s council meeting “without any fanfare.”