York County commissioner candidates field forum questions


The six candidates for the York County Board of Commissioners fielded questions on topics ranging from tax-exempt properties to the county-owned nursing home during a forum Monday night.

The forum, held at the Yorktowne Hotel in York City, was the only forum all the candidates were slated to attend. It was hosted by the Uptown Rotary Club of York, Downtown Inc and the city-based Alliance of Neighborhood Associations.

The candidates: On the Republican ballot, incumbent Chris Reilly will face challengers Susan Byrnes, a health activist, and Kelly Henshaw, a Red Lion councilman.

On the Democratic side, incumbent Doug Hoke will face challengers Henry Nixon, a York City councilman, and Duane Hull, a former Dover Township supervisor.

The top two vote-getters in the May 19 primary from each party will advance to the general election in November.

Sitting President Commissioner Steve Chronister has said he plans to run as an Independent in November after he withdrew from the Republican ballot when his nomination petition was challenged.

The top three vote-getters will win seats on the board.

In 2016, when elected commissioners take offices, the president commissioner will make $89,730 annually, and the other two commissioners will be paid $86,525 each.

Here's a look at what the candidates had to say:

Would you support a county payment in lieu of taxes to offset the county's fair share of real estate taxes for county-owned properties located in York City?

•Hoke pointed out the county traditionally gives the city $100,000 toward its police department's nuisance abatement program as part the county's yearly special allocations. The county also gave money to Downtown Inc, and York County Prison inmates who are part of work crews frequently work to clean up the city. The county sheriff's office's criminal response unit also patrols city streets, Hoke said

"I think the county does have a responsibility to help the city," he said, adding he won't support a full in-lieu-of-taxes payment.

•Hull said he's at a disadvantage since he doesn't have all the details. However, he added he'd sit down with city Mayor Kim Bracey to find out what the need is.

"I can't really say I'm for or against it, but I'm willing to sit down and get educated about it," Hull said.

What can York County do to attract businesses to your communities and assist in creating economic development opportunities?

•Nixon said young people want to live in urban areas. But those areas often suffer from blight.

We need to "find ways to improve our urban municipalities ... to attract those kind of people," he said.

That, in turn, will lead to economic development and new jobs, Nixon said.

•Reilly said commissioners don't have a direct hand in economic development, but the board takes measures to help, such as contributing almost $1 million annually to the York County Economic Alliance. Commissioners also have granted Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance for properties as part of efforts to bring jobs to the county.

He pointed to Church & Dwight Co., maker of Arm & Hammer products, in Jackson Township as a successful use of LERTA.

Would you support selling Pleasant Acres Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, which is subsidized by taxpayers, to relieve taxpayers of this financial obligation?

•Henshaw said you have to look beyond the financial aspect when looking at the nursing home. It supplies hundreds of jobs to the community while also providing a needed service to many more.

"I want to find a way to keep it open," he said.

•Byrnes said that as a registered nurse, the issue is "near and dear to her heart." She recently visited the home and was impressed with how it's run.

She is not in favor of selling it.

"I think York countians take care of York countians," Byrnes said.

Why are you running, why now?

Hoke: "I hope that my record will be looked at. When you think about the votes I've made, the things I've attended, the time I've spent in office, the work I've done," Hoke said, adding he takes a hands-on approach with county finances.

Reilly: "York County is in great shape," Reilly said. "We have one of the lowest tax rates among third-class counties in the entire state of Pennsylvania." He added, "We have a very strong pension fund. In fact, our pension fund is in the top 10 percentile in the nation."

Hull: "I'm a middle-class working guy. I can relate well with others," Hull said. "As a county commissioner ... I'm going to donate $5,000 of my salary, every year, back to the county for worthwhile causes."

Nixon: "I believe in York County, and I believe that we can do so much better. But to do better will require new leadership," Nixon said, adding he'd serve only two terms if elected. "Commissioners have not really changed the course of this county in the last number of years. It's been business as usual, and that's no way to run a railroad."

Byrnes: "Today I see a need for a fully engaged, full-time leader as a York County commissioner," Byrnes said. "I believe it's time for a new perspective and a lot of energy in York County government."

Henshaw: "I want to leave the place ... better than what we found it for our children and grandchildren," Henshaw said. "There's a need in the county to take what I've learned in my experience in municipal government, taking it to the next step as your county commissioner."

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.