York City Council OKs ‘generous' raises for Bracey’s officials after heated debate

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

Several York City officials can expect much bigger paychecks in 2018 after a divided York City Council approved salary raises for some of outgoing Mayor Kim Bracey’s top deputies.

Bracey’s proposal to raise three of her directors’ salaries by more than $10,000 each drew sharp criticism at the end of November from York City Mayor-elect Michael Helfrich, who serves as president of the city council.

City Councilmen Michael Helfrich, right, and Henry Nixon, left, share a laugh during election night at the Democratic Party Headquarters on South Duke Street in York, Pa. on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Dawn J. Sagert - dsagert@yorkdispatch.com

That criticism was amplified Tuesday, Dec. 5, by a number of visibly angered York City residents speaking out against what one called an “early Christmas present” for officials.

By a 3-2 vote, the York City Council approved a nearly $16,000 raise for business administrator Michael Doweary and raises of about $11,000 each for Shilvosky Buffaloe, acting director of economic and community development, and Edquina Washington, who serves as the director of community relations for Bracey.

More:Bracey proposes tax cut, fee increase, salary hikes in 2018 York City budget

As a result of the split vote, Doweary will earn $110,000 in 2018, Buffaloe will earn $95,000 and Washington’s salary will jump from just over $54,000 to $65,000. 

York City Council members Henry Nixon, Sandie Walker and Judy Ritter-Dickson voted in favor of the raises, which Nixon acknowledged were “generous.” Helfrich and Renee Nelson voted against the raises. 

Bracey’s raise proposals were based on a “pay rate survey” of six Pennsylvania cities conducted by Doweary, examining the salaries of officials serving in roles similar to those of York City’s directors.

Those salaries were then averaged and compared to the salaries of York City officials in a process that Helfrich said lacked reasoning. 

“I’m absolutely willing to give people both praise and reward for good work,” Helfrich said. “But there needs to be logic behind it.”

Foregone conclusion? From the outset of the nearly two-hour debate over the salary hikes, it appeared Bracey’s proposals had enough support on council to pass, but Helfrich made several motions to delay the vote and proposed an amendment to reduce the extent of the raises.

All of those actions were voted down by Nixon, Walker and Ritter-Dickson, but they earned the support of Nelson, who said she respected Helfrich’s concern that the raises will put him in a “horrible place” when he takes the mayor’s office.

After Nelson asked her colleagues to delay any vote on the raises, Ritter-Dickson made it clear she had heard enough from her and Helfrich about Bracey’s proposals. 

“I’m ready for the vote,” Ritter-Dickson said, prompting sarcastic laughter from a section of the public in the room.

‘Early Christmas present’: When the floor opened to the public before a final vote, several York City residents slammed Nixon, Walker and Ritter-Dickson for showing no willingness to have any further debate on the raises proposed by Bracey on her way out of office.

Stacy Boyer voiced frustrations about the lack of responsiveness from council members, saying it appeared obvious Nixon, Walker and Ritter-Dickson couldn’t care less about what residents and taxpayers had to say about the raises.

“We elect people into positions, and they don't care about us. They want what they want, and it doesn't matter what any of us sitting here wants,” Boyer said, questioning why “the person who did the comparison is getting the largest raise.”

Craig Smith asked the council if each of them knew why the five-figure raises were merited and suggested they take two weeks to figure it out if not. 

With another council meeting scheduled before the end of the year, there is no reason to rush to approve the raises without full knowledge and a healthy debate, Smith said.

“Is it an early Christmas present or are you going to be responsible council members?” Smith asked.

After pointing out some issues with comparing York City salaries to those in cities with twice as many people, Franklin Williams summed up the feeling in the room by saying the debate reminded him of “talking to a doorknob.” 

“You’re going to do what you decided to do and not waste time thinking about it,” Williams said.

Other residents were more direct with their criticism.

“I will make it my mission not to let you get re-elected,” James Roundtree told Nixon, Walker and Ritter-Dickson.

‘Generous’ raises: Another attempt by Helfrich to reduce the raises failed just before the council approved the raises initially proposed by Bracey.

Following the furor over the raises, the York City Council approved the $46 million 2018 budget by a 3-2 vote, with Helfrich and Nelson again going against their colleagues. 

A residential trash fee increase of 50 cents per month was approved unanimously, as was a 4 percent property tax cut. 

After the meeting, Nixon said he felt Doweary and Buffaloe deserved the 16-plus percent raises they will get, while admitting the raises are “generous.”

“They are generous, and they ought to be because they’re doing a great job,” Nixon said.

Ritter-Dickson left the meeting without speaking to reporters. When asked to comment on the merits of the raises she voted to approve, Ritter-Dickson told The York Dispatch, “I don’t feel like talking. I’m going home.”