Q&A: York City Council candidates talk legislation


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 and a creative writing teacher 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: As a city council person, you would have the ability to legislate. Please give one example of legislation you would propose (and why) and one example of legislation you would like to see repealed (and why).

Chamberlin: I would propose legislation to create a York City Parks Conservancy, something Jim Gross has recommended, based on the successful Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy model. The establishment of this public/private partnership would bring additional funds for our parks, and decrease dependence on the city budget. A conservancy would allow current partners, like Bring On Play and Angels in the Parks, to continue working together to enact positive change in our green spaces, bring funding for current improvement projects and recreational programs, and build endowments to guarantee the future of our parks.

I wouldn't necessarily repeal, but rather carefully review and revise the Neighborhood Improvement Ordinance (Article 730). The trash in our neighborhoods is frustrating, and I want to understand the root of such problems. Since changes in electronics recycling laws, I see many television "carcasses" on the curbs. Is it because the resident has no access to transportation to lawfully dispose of the TV, lack of understanding of the laws, or something else? Until we know why violations are occurring, we can't draft legislation that will work. A careful investigation of why the ordinance hasn't been successful will allow us to make revisions that will result in a cleaner city.

Christopher: I believe we need to introduce a strong incentive plan combining process and application support, rebates and credits in a program similar to the Artist Homesteading Program which promotes home ownership within the city by residents who will be owner/occupiers of the buildings and be an active part in urban renovation. These new home owners do not need to be artists, but can participate in a revised and expanded version of the program which makes home ownership both attainable and inviting for potential business owners or those with a plan to actively participate in and improve city life. I would also like to see the Artist Homesteading Program resurrected and retooled to make it better marketed and more effectively utilized. I believe that promoting the number of owner-occupied homes within the City of York is key to increased safety, cleanliness and an increased and stable tax base.

Helfrich: I will be proposing legislation to require body cameras for our police officers. It will also require that the cameras be on at all times that the officers are on duty, for the safety of our officers and our citizens. New low-cost technology allows Wi-Fi streaming video that can be recorded and stored for a relatively short period of time. These cameras can be observed in real-time and can record the whole work shift for later review. The high-tech cameras are $200, plus a $55 per month service plan. York could get 50 cameras for $10,000, and 50 service plans for $2,750 per month. That's $43,000 for the first year, and $33,000 for the second and third years. While the benefits to the police and our citizens should be obvious, some still may ask how we pay for it during these tough fiscal times. There may be a federal grant available for this soon: US Senate Bill 877, "To establish a pilot grant program to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in purchasing body-worn cameras for law enforcement officers." If not, the savings from a potential lawsuit would likely make up for the cost. There can now be no doubt that the value of knowing the exact details of encounters between our police and our citizens is of the highest priority.

I will be proposing legislation to repeal the $50 ticket for street sweeping and reduce the street sweeping parking fine down to a more reasonable rate of $30. The reason is that the people that get these tickets most often are city residents, and city residents are already paying their share of property taxes, whether directly or through the rent that they pay to landlords. Forgetting to move your car for street sweeping is a dumb mistake, but $50 is more than non-residents pay for a parking ticket. I would then be in favor of increasing the regular parking tickets slightly to make up for any lost revenue.

Hill-Evans: While a proposal for any specific legislation doesn't come to mind, what I would like to tackle if elected, would be to review the codified ordinances that currently exist to see if they are still applicable for the direction we want to take the City of York. Some of the ordinances have been in existence since the city's beginning. Given the enormous number of changes that have taken place since that time, it's prudent to take a look at updating the language of some ordinances to be more aligned with today's needs and tomorrow's future. One piece of legislation I would like to see repealed would be 165.07 requiring City of York employees to reside in the City. On July 20, 2010, I voted against the repeal, thinking employees would vacate the city and revenue would be negatively affected. I now know and understand that while we want folks to want to live in the city, in fact we are restricting our pool of eligible applicants for our positions as they become available. Additionally, many of our employees would not leave, as they are financially and emotionally vested in our city and prefer to live here. Also, experience has made me wise to the fact that residency doesn't make a person a better employee.

Walker: Given the financial state of York City, I would tirelessly work on legislation focused on pension reform. At this particular point, I would work on legislation that would repeal Act 141, which can take away local control from a municipality. The solution is not to take control away from elected officials who were voted in to represent their community. The solution is in Harrisburg, where legislators have the political power to make drastic changes that will help move York City forward.