Helfrich shadowboxes at York City mayor debate

Jason Addy

A York City mayoral forum Thursday night had a bit of an odd look, with candidate Michael Helfrich pitting his wits against city business administrator Michael Doweary, who is not a candidate.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey was in Arizona with several other city and county officials meeting with Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians about a city parks program, Doweary said, so he was sent to represent Bracey’s re-election campaign at the forum at York College, hosted by the school’s History and Political Science Student Union.

York City mayoral candidate Michael Helfrich, left, debates city business administrator and Bracey campaign surrogate Michael Doweary in Weinstock Lecture Hall at York College of Pennsylvania in Spring Garden Township, Thursday, April 20, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Helfrich and Doweary answered about a dozen questions from students and audience members on property taxes, drugs and crime, immigration and the York City School District in the hourlong forum.

Speaking on behalf of the mayor, Doweary noted the administration’s successful push for property tax reductions in the city’s last two budgets and said Bracey is doing all she can to continue driving down taxes.

Property taxes were reduced by 1 percent in 2016 and fell 2 percent this year. Bracey hopes to reduce taxes 4 percent next year, followed by an 8 percent reduction in 2019.

Helfrich, the president of York City Council, also touted his push for property tax cuts during his five years in office, but he said city property owners could be saving even more if the council had approved his budget amendments.

York City must do more to drive down property taxes in order to attract and retain businesses not just in the downtown area but in all city neighborhoods, Helfrich said.

Many businesses across the country want to move into urban environments and help revitalize cities, but York City’s 19.755 mills property tax rate, the highest in the county, is forcing them to look elsewhere, Helfrich said.

“We don’t have to reduce taxes enough to be competitive with Newberry Township or Fairview (Township) or somewhere along the (Interstate) 83 corridor,” Helfrich said. “But we do have to get competitive with the other third-class cities,” such as Lancaster and Harrisburg.

The city also  must reach out and support small businesses in York City to encourage more hiring, Helfrich said.

“You bring (jobs) in by reducing taxes and create them by supporting the businesses that are here,” Helfrich said.