York City Council passes $108M budget adding funding for Penn Market

Rebecca Klar
York Dispatch
Wednesday, July 5, 2017--The Redevelopment Authority of the City of York has taken ownership of Penn Market and plans structural and business improvements to the 150 year old market. Bill Kalina photo

The York City Council unanimously approved the approximately $108 million 2019 budget, along with an amendment adding $125,000 toward continuing Penn Street Market renovations and rewriting an ordinance that helps disadvantaged business owners. 

The budget passed at the council's last meeting of the year on Tuesday, Dec. 18. The council will meet next on Wednesday, Jan. 2. 

The new budget does not include a tax increase. The property tax rate will remain 18.97 mills.

The draft budget initially did not include funding for Penn Market, a point of contention between Mayor Michael Helfrich and council members — especially council president Henry Nixon — at the council's second budget hearing on Dec 4. 

The amendment, unanimously approved by council members in a 5-0 vote, adds an expense of $125,000 to "other professional services" for economic and community development in the general fund. 

Seventy-five thousand dollars will go toward maintaining Penn Street Market, and $50,000 will go toward rewriting the city's Small and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program, or Act 136. 

The act is aimed at giving small and disadvantaged businesses a leg up. 

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As it currently is written, the act is no longer enforceable because of drastic changes over the decades and requires a "complete rewrite," Nixon said. 

"It is worth far more to this community than dollars and cents," he said. 

Before the council introduced and passed the amendment adding funding to Penn Street Market, two business owners with stands at the market spoke during public comment, stating the city needs to take action toward renovating the community space. 

"I had great hopes that competent and knowledgeable people were going to help us meet that future, and I still have that hope," said Deb Volker, a baker who owns and operates Nana's Oven in the market. 

Volker said Penn Street Market provides more than just food and goods — it gives the community a sense of connection and history. 

"It's one of the few places in York where people from every income level and every ethnic group gather and intermingle, that I know of," she said. "I live right downtown, downtown is not that place." 

It is also one of the few places where the cost to start a business in the city is still low and goods are affordable enough for all, she said.

Volker said she has cookies on sale for 50 cents, allowing a kid with just two quarters to get something. 

"Our market is the future of York City, and I just want to know what York City has in mind for our future," she said. 

Peyton James McWilliams, 9, sorts sweet cherries at his family's stand, Charles Ilyes Family Meats and Produce, after a news conference at Penn Market announcing planned improvements to the market Friday, July 7, 2017. The York City Redevelopment Authority took ownership of the building several weeks ago. Peyton is the grandson of Ilyes owner John Ilyes and was celebrating his birthday Friday. Bill Kalina photo

While passing the amendment to the budget, council members shared sentiments similar to Volker's. 

Councilwoman Edquina Washington said the market is "near and dear" to her heart, noting that her grandfather had a fish stand there until he died. 

"I grew up there," she said. 

Councilwoman Judy Ritter-Dickson said she's been shopping at the market from the time she was a little girl — and still now as a "big girl." 

"It's not only important to the council but to the community that we build it up so it is presentable," she said. 

Fire and police funding: Also during the meeting, the council voted to appoint 10 new provisional firefighters and two new probationary police officers. 

The additional firefighters were approved in a unanimous vote; the police officers were approved in a 4-1 vote, with Nixon voting no. 

Nixon said a settlement has not yet been reached on the police contract, and it will be going to binding arbitration in the spring. 

"We don't know what that award will be, we don't know how much that's going to cost the city," he said. "In the meantime, I would hate to have some policemen go through the academy, then go through field training only to have to lay them off because we can't afford to keep them." 

York City Police Chief Troy Bankert said the openings are due to one officer quitting two weeks before graduating from the academy and another officer who was expected to return from military leave in May on extended leave now until September. 

There are currently two officers out on military leave. Those officers are not on the payroll, Bankert said. 

The city budgeted for fewer police officers in 2019, shrinking the force from 105 budgeted officers to 100 officers.

The city currently has 88 operational police officers, Bankert said. 

The 10 additional firefighters come from seven new positions created in the 2019 budget and three upcoming retirements, said York City Fire Chief David Michaels. 

The next fire academy begins Jan. 28. The council's approval helps get the ball rolling by allowing the department to begin physical and psychological tests, Michaels said. 

City officials said the 2019 budget allotting money for additional firefighters will save the city money by cutting overtime costs. 

By getting firefighters into the academy as soon as possible, the city will see savings sooner, Michaels said. 

— Reach Rebecca Klar at rklar@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @RebeccaKlar_