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York City to furlough 103 as revenues plunge

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

York City will soon furlough 103 employees because of severe tax revenue shortfalls caused by efforts to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak, city officials announced Tuesday.

And discussion — or lack thereof — about how well unemployment benefits could buoy affected employees led to a brief but tense exchange Tuesday night between city council member Lou Rivera and other members of the York City Council.

Roughly 30 employees will be furloughed completely, while the remaining employees will only work eight to 20 hours a week, city officials said. But those numbers are subject to change.

“We hate to do this, but we believe this is a savings based on our projected revenue loss," said business director Tom Ray. "Hopefully it will not last very long."

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The furloughs, which mostly affect public works employees, are slated to take effect June 1. The furloughs are expected to save the city about $190,000 a month, officials said.

All furloughed employees would retain their health insurance. But those working limited hours would not receive hazard pay, as they have been since March.

Unlike some other municipalities, including York County, the city opted not to furlough employees earlier this year due to concerns it would too severely disrupt families' incomes.

York City Council members, from left, President Henry Nixon, Judy Ritter-Dixon and Edquina Washington participate in a York City Council town hall meeting at Logos Academy in York City, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

As revenue shortfalls became more clear, though, Ray said furloughs became necessary — and could last through the end of the year.

York City estimated $4.4 million in lost tax revenue as of the end of April, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich has said.

That figure includes an estimated $2.2 million loss in property taxes alone. Helfrich said he is unsure whether that revenue will be lost for good or if the city would be able to recover it through delayed payments.

The furloughs would likely be in effect well after the federal government's July 25 cutoff period for unemployment aid, when it will stop sending an extra $600 per week to those utilizing unemployment benefits.

Helfrich argued that employees would actually be paid more on employment than working at their normal posts in the city. 

With the $600 stimulus, Helfrich said, anyone making less than $60,000 annually will end up netting more income.

"The point is there's nobody that is being asked not to come into work that is going to make less money than if the city coffers were paying them to not work," he said.

Rivera attempted to interject, saying that once the $600 stimulus checks expire in late July, those benefits would be cut roughly in half and employees would be making much less than if they were working.

Lou Rivera is sworn in at the start of the first York City Council meeting of the year, Monday, January 6, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Helfrich, along with council President Henry Nixon, raised their voices to silence the freshman council member.

"Please sir, I am making a comment. This is not a discussion," Helfrich said, later clarifying the federal government would need to expand the unemployment aid to keep his assertion valid.

"I don't want to have a discussion here," Nixon followed. 

On Wednesday morning, Rivera on Facebook called Nixon "extremely incompetent" and apologized for how the meeting was run.

Rivera wrote he would "no longer be bullied" by Nixon, noting he was cut off more than one time during the meeting while other council members were allowed to speak.

"Elections matter! After this November election York City residents should be gearing up to remove him during the primary election in April 2021," he wrote.

Nixon did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. 

Last week,  Helfrich was one of 15 mayors in Pennsylvania to sign a letter pleading for Congress to provide funding for local and state governments hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The mayors are specifically seeking at least $250 billion in relief from the next stimulus bill, which would help offset the losses that prompted the furlough announcement on Tuesday.

The letter, sent to members of the state's congressional delegation, came shortly after House Democrats earlier this week unveiled a $3 trillion plan, roughly one-third of which would go directly to state and local governments.

But Republicans, citing spending concerns, have viewed the proposal as a nonstarter.

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