'To the bone': York City's 2020 draft budget calls for plenty of cuts

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
York City on Thursday, Nov. 14, wrapped up its draft budget hearings. From left: York City Councilman Michael Buckingham, City Council President Henry Nixon, Mayor Michael Helfrich and City Councilwoman Edquina Washington.

York City's 2020 draft budget calls for broad cuts as the city combats rising health care and pension costs.

The proposed $110.9 million budget entails pulling $6 million from the city's reserves in addition to the cuts, which official say are the only way to address the third-class city's historical struggles to keep its head above water.

"At this point, we already know the system will still be broken next year," York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said after the city's final budget hearing Thursday, Nov. 14. "I emphasized (to department heads) looking at year-to-date expenses and basing your allocations on year-to-date expenses."

More:Helfrich calls for state pension, health care reform in first budget hearing

The city expects a $3 million increase in pension costs next year.

Police pensions account for most of that increase. In 2020 alone, costs are expected to rise by nearly $420,000 when budgeting for 100 officers — a 7.5% increase from 2019 — bringing the city's annual obligation to the force to just more than $6 million. 

Meanwhile, taxable property value in the city continues to decrease, dropping $4 million since 2006, the mayor said.

Until some kind of state-level pension and health care reform is implemented, it's up to the city's departments and bureaus to make cuts in operational costs, Helfrich said.

Although the 2020 draft budget is roughly $2 million more than in 2019, 14 of the 29 city government entities included in it managed to decrease total expenditures despite increased pension and health care costs.

Those cuts, in agencies that include the York City Fire Department and bureaus of health and housing, totaled $3,783,969 — a 9.8% decrease from 2019.

But those spending decreases don't tell the whole story.

Some agencies' budget expenditures came out higher in the 2020 budget, even though they made cuts in operational expenses, because of higher pension and health care obligations.

The city's Electrical Bureau and Building Maintenance budget, for example, increased from $1.66 million to $1.69 million in the 2020 budget.

That increase came despite the fact the bureau cut specific line items as much as 20%.

"We have cut the budget to the bone," said David Rudolph, the bureau's superintendent. "Our budget cannot get thinner."

Some 2020 projects may not even get done with the limited budget, he added.

Helfrich said he intends to bring in financial experts to help address the city's budgetary issues, and he will contact legislators this year to push for pension, health care and property tax reform. 

"We're going to be providing them the data that proves the systemic breakdown of the taxing structure of the commonwealth and hoping they can find something to do about it," he said.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.