York City budget grinds to a halt amid debate over amendments

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

York City's budget process ground to a halt amid confusion over a series of amendments that would trim $4 million from the original $104 million budget proposal submitted by Mayor Michael Helfrich's administration.

The heart of the issue is that council members and the public feel they need more time to review the 1,000 amendments that administration added since the initial budget proposal in November. The vast majority of the changes weren't substantial — the result of one change cascading down through subsequent line items — but council members said it was difficult to fully vet on a compressed timetable.

The staff who worked on creating the budget were allowed to reuse the 2022 budget as a base and fill in or change it to reflect 2023 needs, Helfrich said. The budget team allowed this because these employees were also working on catching up on several years worth of audits and dealing with the fallout from a computer break in back in 2020.

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In addition, adding four York City Police officers to the budget via amendments meant several sections — including health care and insurance — had to be edited to include the officers, racking up hundreds of changes. Helfrich said there were 13 new officers in the original proposed budget and the amended proposed budget has 17 total.

York City mayor Michael Helfrich speaking at the light up York festivities on Friday Dec. 2, 2022.

Usually the budget process follows this path:

The administration would create the budget, which would then be reviewed department by department in hearings with the business administration and mayor. After the administration makes changes they deem necessary, the mayor would propose the budget to the City Council. That budget then must sit for 14 days, until their next meeting, before any action can be taken on it.

Due to time constraints, Helfrich presented the proposed budget to the council before budget hearings could be held and had to make changes to it in the form of amendments. These amendments must be approved by the council.

However, on the agenda for last Tuesday's meeting, the original proposed budget and the amended proposed budget were listed as separate items requiring separate rounds of voting.

"I don't think it's a secret," Council President Sandie Walker said. "It might be a surprise to some, but I was not a fan of the overall budget process."

York City City Council President Sandie Walker during a Flag Day Celebration at Veterans Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden in York City, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Walker said she'd been using the original working document in analyzing the proposal. The council received the amended proposed budget via email on Nov. 30 and a hard copy Dec. 2, she said.

Due to the amendments, Walker said the body needed more time.

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Deliberations on Tuesday proved confusing to the public — and to some of the officials present. The council initially rejected the original budget proposal in a 3-2 vote before taking up the new amended budget.

One resident, Michael Walker, questioned the council's ability to do so, noting that the amended version wasn't advertised to the public.

"This actually seems like this would be the first reading of this particular second budget that is being introduced. And now we're going to do the first reading and a final passage on the same day," Michael Walker said.

After a half hour of debate, the council ultimately withdrew its motion on the amended budget before going through a litany of other procedural votes.

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Ultimately, the council members chose to table further budget consideration until the Dec. 20 meeting in order to allow the council and the public more time to review the proposals.

Neither the original budget nor the amended one would call for a tax increase, thanks in large part to the city's $235.3 million sale of its wastewater treatment plant to Pennsylvania American Water. Based on current estimates of the original budget proposal, the last one taken up for consideration by council, the owner of a $100,000 home could expect to pay $1,870 in property taxes.

The next City Council meeting is at 6 p.m. Dec. 20 in council chambers at York City Hall, 101 S. George St., and will be livestreamed on the White Rose Community Television website at www.wrct.tv.

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.