Bracey proposes lower property tax for York City

Jason Addy
York Dispatch
  • The York City Council approved a new sidewalk-closure ordinance and four probationary police officers at Tuesday night's meeting.
  • The council will begin working through the budget Monday.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey is proposing another property tax cut in her 2017 budget, though residents can expect small increases in their trash and water fees.

Bracey presented her administration’s $47.7 million budget, which includes no tax increase for the fifth year in a row as well as a 2 percent drop in property taxes, to the short-handed York City Council on Tuesday night.

The York City property tax rate would drop from 20.16 mills to 19.75 mills in 2017, meaning a homeowner with an assessed property value of $50,000 would save $25 on their property taxes in 2017, business administrator Michael Doweary said.

“It is small in dollars and percentage terms, but it is enormous psychologically,” Bracey told the council.

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

Bracey's plan is to reduce property taxes by 15 percent by 2019, implementing the tax cuts incrementally. The 2016 budget included a 1 percent decrease, and the mayor plans to further cut property taxes 4 percent in 2018 and 8 percent in 2019.

However, under the proposed 2017 budget, York City residents would pay an additional $1 per month for trash and refuse collection, while city businesses will see their bills increase by $2 per month, Doweary said.

By the end of 2016, the city will have eliminated its $5 million operating deficit and be caught up on its pension obligations, Doweary said. Thanks to pension concessions from the police and fire unions, the city’s pension obligations for 2016 were paid as of September, he said

Greg Shenk, a partner at accounting and auditing firm Maillie LLP, updated the council on its 2015 audit, highlighting "positive indicators" that show the city is improving its financial landscape.

The city was able to fund its pension liabilities throughout 2015, though it still owed pension contributions from 2014, Shenk said. The city included those payments in its 2016 contribution schedule and will be current on all payments by the end of the year, he said.

York City reduced its operating deficit from $4.2 million at the beginning of 2015 to $829,000 by Dec. 31, 2015, Shenk said.

"While you're still at a deficit, it's a significant improvement — a significant improvement from the prior year, and it shows you're going in the right direction," he said.

The city also drove down the deficit in its recreational fund, which historically has had a "real problem" with running high deficits, Shenk said. The recreational fund deficit dropped more than 90 percent from 2012 to 2015, from $670,000 to $64,000, Shenk said.

York City is looking to regionalize many of the services it shares with York County to cut costs, including an agreement over copying machines and consolidating real estate tax collections with the county, Doweary said.

Residents can expect to see their sewer bills increase by 40 cents to 90 cents per 1,000 gallons of water used in 2017, Doweary said.

Council President Michael Helfrich said the average monthly sewer bill in the city is $40 to $50 a month. He estimated the proposed increase could cost families an extra $40 to $60 in 2017, on top of an extra $12 for trash collection.

Helfrich said he is negotiating with Bracey and her administration to find "other ways to put together these pieces" so that middle-class working families don't bear the brunt of the fee increases.

Bracey's plan to reduce property taxes while increasing sewer and refuse fees puts many city residents in a hard place, he said. Families that rent their homes will not be affected by a reduction in property taxes, but they would have to pay more for water service and trash collection, Helfrich said.

"We're picking winners and losers. The big winners when taxes are reduced are the people that own commercial real estate and the people that own the most valuable houses in the city," he said. "The people that will lose big are renters with families and those that have property values of less than approximately $75,000."

Councilman Henry Nixon said he will "make every effort" to reduce the 2017 budget for sewer maintenance and capital projects by 60 percent.

Though the city's infrastructure "needs significant attention," Nixon said he wants to make the upgrades incrementally over the next two or three years to reduce the proposed sewer fee increases for homeowners, residents and businesses.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council unanimously approved a new sidewalk-closure ordinance, which will require property owners to obtain a permit before blocking off sidewalks for repairs and construction. The permit will cost $50 and be valid for 90 days.

The council also approved four probationary police officers, though their addition will not increase the size of the police force, Helfrich said.

Filling the vacancy: The council will begin budget discussions in earnest at Monday night’s committee meeting after filling its vacant fifth seat.

Applications and resumes are due to the council by noon Wednesday. The council will conduct public interviews with prospective candidates on Monday night in council chambers before voting on who will finish out former Council President Carol Hill-Evans’ term.

Hill-Evans resigned from the council Nov. 9 after winning a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.