York City approves 2022 budget — without disputed federal funding

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York City Council passed a budget Tuesday without federal dollars that was hotly debated between the body and Mayor Michael Helfrich.

The $96.5 million budget does not call for any tax increases, but it also defers a longer discussion over how to spend the city's $6.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Instead, the spending plan includes just $195,725 of those federal dollars. It's not clear when decisions about the remaining money will be made.

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Councilman Lou Rivera abstained from the vote, saying the funding could partially pay his salary as part of the Spanish American Multicultural Resource Center. He later voted against the passage of the budget.

Mayor Helfrich advocated in public comment multiple times to keep the funding in the budget, saying it was supported by the people of the city and that it would directly assist with issues such as homelessness and violence.

The money stripped from the budget was earmarked for a series of social program proposals, including a co-responder system that would have paired mental health specialists with police officers and street outreach to connect homeless people with those who can help them.

"What you're doing is affecting the people of the city of York," Helfrich said. "People of the city are in need. They've been in need for four years while I've tried to scrape together nickels and dimes to try and help people and now we have the money, and you're talking about 'Why don't we just wait a little bit.'" 

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But Vice President Sandie Walker disagreed, saying that there needed to be more public outreach and engagement.

"While we appreciate the work that has been done so far, we also understand that this is a once in a generation opportunity and we must invest wisely," Walker said. "We must work together and take very deliberate and decisive steps to support transformative programs and projects that will have an immense and sustainable impact on our community." 

Helfrich and Walker sparred before the passage of the budget, with Helfrich saying he felt like a defense attorney going up against a prosecution that had no evidence.

"It seems very much like this is directly a personal issue, and if it is a personal issue it seems like an embarrassment to the city of York," Helfrich said.

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Walker fired back, saying it wasn't a personal issue and that she believed there was a better way to use the funding. She had investigated a number of other municipalities to find out how they were using their ARPA and found that those places had strategic plans and clear timeframes on how they're using their funds.

"What I have simply requested is that we come together as elected officials with some type of outside consultant to make sure that we're doing this the best way that we can," Walker said.

Helfrich left the meeting early after the passage of the budget. 

Matt Enright can be reached via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.