York County approves 14% tax hike

Greg Gross
  • The new county real estate tax rate is 5.16 mills, up from 4.52
  • That equals to a 14.2 percent increase

York County commissioners unanimously approved on Wednesday the 2016 budget that includes a larger tax increase than previously expected.

The county real estate millage rate for next year will be 5.16 mills, up from the 5.07 that was previously expected, and up even further from the current rate of 4.52 mills.

An added $484,000 increase in expenses was brought on by unforeseen expense increases that came to light in the past few weeks and partially because of the 5-month long state budget impasse, said Mark Derr, the county administrator.

"It's not fun to vote to raise everybody's taxes,"  Doug Hoke, the vice president commissioner said. "It hits me just as much as it does everyone else."

Under the new millage rate, the owner of a property assessed at $131,345, the average assessment for a home in the county, will pay $677 in county real estate taxes. That's an $84, or 14.2 percent, increase over the current rate.

Expenses up: Across-the-board expenses are going up next year. Health care costs will increase $4.6 million, and the county will contribute an additional $2.5 million to its pension fund for a full contribution of $12.3 million.

The Children, Youth & Families budget is to increase by $1.8 million to hire more staff to handle an increase in suspected abuse cases. Through the first eight months of this year, the office conducted 3,044 investigations into suspected child abuse and neglect, a roughly 75 percent increase from the 1,735 investigated for the same period of last year.

The county's subsidy to the county-run Pleasant Acres Nursing & Rehabilitation Center is expected to increase $1.5 million next year, for a total of $7.7 million.

The $533.9 million budget includes general fund expenses of $212.6 million, an 8 percent increase over 2015.

Unforeseen: Reading from a laundry list, Hoke went over the unforeseen expense increases that led to the larger tax hike.

There was $102,000 added to the York County Coroner's Office budget to cover the expense to have dead bodies transported from scenes to the morgue at York Hospital and to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown for autopsies. White Rose Ambulance is ending its agreement to provide transportation, leaving the coroner's office to find new vendors, one of which has already been named.

The county's subsidy to its domestic relations office, which also receives state funding, increased to $350,000 for 2015 and $215,000 next year. That's a direct result of the state budget impasse, Derr noted.

"It was just a perfect storm of bad things happening to the budget that couldn't be resolved," Commissioner Chris Reilly said.

The information service and the parks and recreation departments budgets are increasing by a combined $167,000 because projects slated to be complete this year were put off until 2016.

On the revenue side, the county will lose out on $300,00 after commissioners approved outsourcing case management services for people in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program.

"This was the most difficult budget in my eight years in office," Hoke said.

No other option: To help curb the impact of the growing budget, commissioners opted to deny about $124,000 in funding requested by various departments. Special allocations, the fund that includes farmland preservation, marks contributions the county will make to quasi-governmental organizations and nonprofits, was held at the 2015 level of $6.5 million.

Steve Chronister, the president commissioner, noted the tax increase is the largest since he's been on the board. This was the last budget he'll have a hand in since he didn't win re-election in November and won't be back on the board next year.

The last time commissioners increased taxes was in 2013 when the tax rate rose from 4.15 mills to 4.52 mills, an 8.9 percent hike.

If the county had opted to balance the budget without a tax increase, it would have meant furloughing thousands of employees, something that's not an option, he said.

Despite the tax hike, residents get the best bang for their tax bucks, Chronister said.

"That's a hell of a bargain," Chronister said of the average county tax bill. "I think we do it (provide services) better than any other county in Pennsylvania."

The budget can be viewed at the county administration building, 28 E. Market St. in York City, or online at yorkcountypa.gov.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.