Q&A with York City Council candidates: Property taxes
Five Democrats — two incumbents and three newcomers — will appear on the party's May 19 ballot for York City Council. Three four-year terms are up for grabs.
Among the candidates are two incumbents, Council President Carol Hill- Evans and Councilman Michael Helfrich. Vying for a first term on the council are Amy Chamberlin, Carla Christopher and Sandie Walker.
Chamberlin is the operations manager at Mefro Wheels US Services. Christopher is the city's former poet laureate who teaches creative writing at William Penn Senior High School. Walker currently serves on the York City School District school board.
Each week, The York Dispatch will ask the candidates to respond to a question about issues facing York.
This week's question: What ideas do you have that could help the city maintain — or possibly reduce — its property-tax rate?
Chamberlin: The city's property tax rates are tied to state laws and structures related to third class cities in Pennsylvania.
Over the past couple of years, the city's budget has been getting tighter and running leaner to avoid property tax increases. To see future property tax relief, we need the state government to enact property tax and pension reforms. I will actively advocate on behalf of the city to our state delegation, pushing them to ensure that such reforms are finally addressed and passed at the state level, in order to bring property tax relief to York City. That said, we must continue to be diligent in managing the city's budget and keeping costs in line to prevent tax increases. There are ways that we can creatively find cost savings in our budget. For example, drawing on the Rusk Report objectives, I am willing to work across municipality lines to find cost savings by partnering with other municipalities with strategies such as bulk purchasing. Even if we don't consolidate services, we can work together to find ways to save money by creating joint contracts to purchase needed services and supplies at reduced rates, benefiting the city and the partnering municipalities.
Christopher: The first tenet of effective and efficient government governing should always abide by the following: Decisions are always better when the full cost and consequences of the decision is borne. The City of York has been forced to make deep cuts in every area of the budget. I believe the two-fold necessary answer is not to try to reduce expenses and eliminate any more services that will effect both quality of life and effectiveness of services, but to redistribute resources and to develop creative new partnerships to dramatically restructure fiscal responsibility on a permanent and meaningful basis. We also need a powerful economic development program specifically targeting York's participation in strong nearby markets like tourism, arts, agribusiness, energy and technology — Pennsylvania's major industries and areas where York has an underdeveloped foothold. The most direct version: To keep taxes stable we need to focus on investing in our city and increasing revenue.
Helfrich: My number one goal is property tax reduction. Taxes force people from their homes and make York less desirable for job-providing businesses. We are in a downward spiral. High taxes reduce property values, reducing city revenue, requiring higher taxes to get the same amount of revenue. This has to stop.
Each of my three years on Council I have offered amendments reducing expenses below the Mayor's no-tax-increase budget. These successful amendments reduced expenses, but I could not get the four votes needed to move that savings into deficit and property tax reduction. For us to reduce taxes, any new Council members must be committed to reducing taxes.
Current expenses cannot be increased. Proper oversight of the sewer plant could save half a million. Negotiating in good faith with our firefighters could save over two million. Partnering with the public can reduce the costs of park maintenance. We are paying down some budget deficits, reducing expenses. Finally, our biggest expense, our police force, must be reduced. Not by over thirty officers as suggested by Mayor Bracey last year, but reduced by about fifteen. These reductions, plus social initiatives to reduce crime and litter, will reduce taxes and bring back property values.
Hill-Evans: Two areas of focus — first, slow the erosion of our tax base by continuing to focus on increasing homeownership. If we are to encourage young families to move into the city we have to provide an academically improved school system. Often, when young couples move into the city and their children approach school age, they must decide between sending their child to public school, being able to afford private school (along with the high taxes) or leaving the city. By working with and within the school district to change that concept we keep our young family from moving, which increases homeownership and stabilizes taxes. Secondly — economic development of our downtown vacant properties and our under utilized industrial park. One way is to encourage and increase development of business incubators. Business incubators help with small business formation and job creation; establish an entrepreneurial environment; contribute to the diversification of the economy and increase revenue through rental fees and fewer vacancies. By increasing businesses within the City of York increased revenue is realized — directly resulting in sharing of the tax burden. In turn increased revenue helps stabilize the tax rate, provides jobs for our residents and over time could help reduce the tax rate.
Walker: My first priority would be to advocate for our legislators in Harrisburg to support Governor Wolf's current proposed budget and future budgets, which will significantly reduces property taxes. As a school board director, I haven't supported increased tax rates in recent years and will continue to be against tax rate increases as your city councilwoman. Being an employee for the City of York for almost six years, I am aware of the sacrifices and cuts that have been made in various departments. There are some innovative ideals on a recreational level that will not only serve the diversity of York City, but can also bring in revenue, which can help reduce property tax rates. Municipal and school taxes directly correlate. As your councilwoman, I will already have a working relationship with our school district and will make sure that both entities are executing due diligence to maintain and reduce property taxes.