York council candidates debate taxes, building codes
York City voters got a double-dose of debates Monday night as candidates for mayor and city council went toe-to-toe two weeks before the May 16 primaries.
In the event’s undercard debate at Buchart Horn on West Philadelphia Street, council members Henry Nixon, Renee Nelson and Judy Ritter-Dickson and challenger Anne Clark staked their claims to the three open seats on the council.
The four candidates faced questions about property codes enforcement, how to attract businesses to York City and the reasoning behind a budget that includes property tax cuts and increased sewer fees.
Property tax plans: Nixon and Nelson pointed to their records of voting to hold and reduce property taxes during their terms and defended the council’s passage of a budget that offset property tax cuts with sewer-fee increases.
By increasing the sewer fees and lowering property taxes, the city is able to spread costs among more residents while giving homeowners some money back, Nelson said.
As with all other utilities, the cost of maintaining the city’s sewer system continues to rise, Nixon said.
Nixon admitted “there has been very little net gain” for some residents but reminded them of the city’s five-year plan to reduce taxes 15 percent by 2020.
“You will realize significant savings on your municipal tax at the end of this five-year period,” Nixon said.
If elected, Clark said, she will “stay true” to reducing property taxes by 15 percent, but she warned against major cuts to city programs and public safety services to accomplish those goals.
Ritter-Dickson said she will continue to work to reduce property taxes and said the city could teach residents how to save money on their sewer bills to help offset additional costs.
Ritter-Dickson is seeking a full term after being appointed to the council following former council president Carol Hill-Evans’ election to the state House of Representatives in November.
Property codes: Building codes and property maintenance inspections took center stage during the city council candidates’ debate.
During the course of her campaign, Clark said, she has gone to 10 neighborhood association meetings where nuisance and blighted properties were residents’ top concern.
Clark called for better communication between city government and residents and for re-empowering neighborhood associations to help instill a sense of community pride in residents.
Nixon said codes enforcement and property maintenance issues were the impetus behind his campaign for council seven years ago and listed codes enforcement as his No. 2 issue behind public safety.
After unsuccessfully lobbying for an additional property maintenance inspector last year, Nixon said the city has hired a fifth inspector, an expansion that now allows for some weekend codes monitoring and enforcement.
Nixon also said he will be introducing legislation on Tuesday “to put real teeth into the absentee landlords who are hiding behind some LLC (limited liability company).”
Nixon said his bill would require real estate management companies to have a representative that lives in York County.
“That way, when there’s an infraction, we can go after a person and not a P.O. box somewhere in Iowa,” Nixon said.
Decriminalization: With West York working on a proposed ordinance to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana, the four York City Council candidates were asked whether they would look to do the same inside city limits.
Ritter-Dickson emphatically said she supports efforts to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and said “a ticket for a joint or so” is better than arresting York City residents.
Criminal records for small-possession convictions stop young people from getting student loans and housing, while making it more difficult to find a job, Ritter-Dickson said.
Nelson said she “sees both sides” of the issue but would need more information in order to vote on any decriminalization ordinance, as she does not know the long-term effects or benefits of marijuana use.
As an educator at Lincoln Charter School, Clark said she does not endorse decriminalization as she “would never” tell her students it is OK to use drugs.
However, Clark said she strongly supports medical marijuana and the council’s approval of Five-Leaf Remedies’ proposal to open a medical marijuana growing and processing facility in the city.
While Nixon said he personally believes decriminalization “makes good sense,” he said he is “loathe to make a commitment one way or the other” because he does not believe a city council has the authority to pass a law to decriminalize marijuana.