York City could face tight deadline to ward off tax hike, job cuts

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
The City of York's wastewater treatment plant.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
John A. Pavoncello photo

York City officials will have little time next month to decide whether to sell the city's wastewater treatment plant, a measure officials say is the only way to avoid significant tax hikes and job cuts.

Mayor Michael Helfrich last week unveiled a "horrible" 2021 draft budget that includes hiking property taxes and cutting 27 jobs to combat a $14 million deficit. However, that could all be prevented if the plant can be sold for the right price, he said.

The bids, though, aren't due until Dec. 9. That gives officials three weeks to review and understand them before the Dec. 31 budget deadline.

“As long as we receive bids that are in a range that are acceptable to us, we will be able to project how we move forward and whether or not we can move forward with a budget based on a sale of the wastewater treatment plant,” Helfrich said.

More:Helfrich's budget would hike York City taxes, cut police officers

More:Helfrich says brace for the worst ahead of 2021 budget hearings

While a deal on the plant doesn't need to be finalized by the Dec. 31 budget deadline, officials would have to analyze the bids and make a call on whether they can cut a deal that would efficiently buoy the city's finances.

Helfrich declined to say how much the city wants for the plant, saying it would be "bad business" to give bidders a baseline price tag.

But he made it clear last week that the sale would need to be enough to pay off the plant's debt and allow for a 20% property tax decrease that aims to spur economic growth.

Over the next 10 years, the city needs to pay a roughly $17 million share of the total $37 million worth of improvements to the plant.

What's at stake is a looming property tax hike of 9.25 mills. That would equate to a $925 annual tax increase on a home with an assessed value of $100,000.

Also at risk are 27 jobs — nine of which are police officers, accounting for nearly 10% of the total police force — that would be lost through attrition. 

Helfrich has said multiple parties have expressed "serious interest" in purchasing the plant, but officials have declined to comment further.

The only entity that has publicly indicated it plans to make an offer is a regional sewer authority composed of five surrounding municipalities: Manchester, West Manchester, Spring Garden and York townships, and North York borough.

“We would be prepared to make a reasonable offer,” said Kelly Kelch, the manager for West Manchester Township.

Officials from that coalition have already had talks with financing companies, Kelch said, adding that the municipalities have begun the paperwork to officially establish the authority.

However, citing the ongoing request for proposal process, he declined to give details of what their offer would entail.

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