Government shutdown averted as York City Council approves budget

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York City has averted a government shutdown.

In a short meeting Thursday morning, the York City Council voted to override Mayor Michael Helfrich's veto of the city's 2022 budget.

The $95.6 million budget had initially included over $6.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act  funding that would have gone to a variety of social services programs. However, the council voted to strip much of that funding out of the budget, which led to Helfrich's veto and, subsequently, Thursday's special meeting.

It's not clear what the council members wanted to use the ARPA funding for. Instead, their concerns centered around process. During the Dec. 21 meeting where the Council voted to remove the funding, Vice President Sandie Walker called the funding a "once in a generation opportunity" and said there needed to be a more deliberative process in deciding how to use the money.

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"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," Walker said at the time.

York City Councilwoman Sandie Walker places a wreath in honor of the York County Veteran's Outreach during the York County Memorial Day Wreath Laying ceremony at Veteran's Memorial Park Monday, May 31, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

Instead, just $197,726 of the federal dollars remain in the budget, which nevertheless does not include a tax increase.

The City Council needed a two-thirds majority to override Helfrich's veto. Four of five members voted in favor, with Councilman Lou Rivera voting against passage of the budget.

In comments after the vote and before adjourning the meeting, outgoing Council President Henry Nixon criticized the attempted use of the ARPA funding.

"Unfortunately, the urge for immediate, temporary solutions was greater than patient, long view for the future," he said.

READ MORE: York City Council plans budget hearing as shutdown looms

Nixon also criticized the relationship between the City Council and the mayor's office, saying communication has been at best strained and at worst nonexistent.

"This is not due to Council's disrespect or ignorance of the mayor or the administration, but rather the dictatorial attitude of the mayor," Nixon said. "Friction has existed in the policies of this administration and Council since the very beginning." 

In an interview Thursday, Helfrich took issue with Nixon's comments.

"These items had been discussed, there was no pushback at the time," he said. "(Walker) did not protest until all of the processes were complete." 

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich speaks during a Community Violence Awareness Event at Lincoln Charter School Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. The event was sponsored by York City Police, the City of York, and The Movement. Bill Kalina photo

The mayor called the comments from City Council members disingenuous. 

"Hopefully in 2022 we can start fresh and put this hyperbole and misinformation behind us, because there is real work to do that the City Council needs to get done," he said. "While they choose not to do their jobs but to point the fingers at the administration, the entire city is falling behind in its obligations, both its financial obligations and its obligations to the City of York, to serve and protect them."

He added: "I've done everything that I can." 

READ MORE: York City approves 2022 budget — without disputed federal funding

Walker said she didn't have any personal priorities for the ARPA funding but that the city needs to sit back and analyze where best the funding would go.

"When we're saying 'Let's hold up,' we're not saying we're going to keep this money in the bank forever," Walker said. "We're saying 'Let's really analyze the programs.'"

In his own comment before the vote,  Rivera defended the work of the ARPA committee, whose recommendations were included in Helfrich's proposed budget. Rivera had abstained from the vote to remove the funding, saying the funding could have possibly paid his salary as a part of the Spanish American Multicultural Resource Center.

Lou Rivera takes a ceremonial "Oath of Office" administered by Pastor Joel Folkemer, left, at the start of the first York City Council meeting of the year, Monday, January 6, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

"I think [Helfrich] put together a very good group of leaders and they worked very hard with the standards for how the money was given and the organizations they chose," he said.

However, Rivera also said he didn't appreciate the mayor's public rhetoric on the funding. That includes the Monday Message that prompted the City Council to release a news release accusing   Helfrich of using an opportunistic approach in pushing the use of federal funding.

READ MORE: Mayor, council spar over how to use $35M in federal funds

"I think he knew that there was an opportunity that this could have been challenged, and I think rather than going public and pitting the residents of York against Council that he should have engaged Council," Rivera said. "We should have gotten together and we should have made this work." 

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