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At least $175M offered for York City's wastewater system

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

York City Council on Tuesday is slated to consider an offer of at least $175 million for the city's wastewater treatment system, a sale that officials say would prevent significant tax hikes and job cuts if approved.

All four respondents to the city's request for proposals seeking a buyer for the system offered a purchase price of more than $175 million, city officials announced in a release.

Officials declined to offer more detail about the potential buyers or the terms of their offers.

The sale has been seen as the most realistic way to pare spending as the city faces a $14 million budget deficit.

“We are extremely pleased with the responses and results of the RFP process,” said Mayor Michael Helfrich in a statement. “Our committee believes, based on the RFP results, that the sale of the wastewater system is in the best interests of all City residents as well as all customers currently served by the system.”

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

More:Officials: Four bidders eyeing York City's wastewater treatment system

The York City Council at its Tuesday legislative meeting is expected to take up the offers and consider the sale.

The winning proposal would then be presented to the York City Sewer Authority in early 2021. It would also need approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The sale of the wastewater treatment system would prevent tax hikes of up to 9.25 mills in the 2021 fiscal year and save most of the 27 jobs, including nine police officer positions, that are on the line.

"Assuming that council votes the way I believe it might, we'll be able to reinstate those people that were going to lose their jobs, all but about five police officers," said York City Council President Henry Nixon following the announcement. "All of the sort of draconian cuts and fee increases are all going to go away."

The remaining police officer jobs in jeopardy of being lost to attrition could still be saved through grant funding, Nixon added.

Helfrich has previously said that the sale price for the wastewater system would need to be substantial enough to pay off the the city's roughly $17 million share of the total $37 million worth of improvements to the system over the next 10 years.

In addition, it would need to provide for a 20% property tax decrease for residents.

Tuesday's council vote would come just in time. The city's deadline to pass a budget is Dec. 31.

As it stood, Helfrich's draft budget, which does not account for the sale, would have boosted property taxes by 9.25 mills. Census data puts the median assessed value of a home in York City at $75,900. A 9.25-mill tax increase would add $702 to the owner's tax bill in 2021. 

Helfrich has attributed the city's precarious financial situation to skyrocketing pension and health care costs as well as tax revenue shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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