OP-ED: York’s brightest days are just ahead
The York area is at a critical crossroads. And not surprisingly, those crossroads meet in the City of York.
By now, York’s financial woes are well documented. Like so many other small cities across Pennsylvania, it is buckling under the crushing weight of mounting debt and stagnant tax revenues. The COVID-19 pandemic is only exacerbating the problem with an estimated $3 million in lost revenue to the city — an estimate that continues to grow at an alarming rate.
And as the city goes, so goes the rest of York County.
But all is not lost. In fact, we are downright optimistic about York’s future.
Our unbreakable optimism for this region is predicated on a proposed public-private partnership between the City of York and Pennsylvania American Water. Through this partnership, Pennsylvania American would purchase York’s entire wastewater treatment plant and collection system for $235 million, making it one of the largest acquisitions in the company’s history.
This sale is not necessarily the perfect antidote for the crippling financial pain that has afflicted York City residents and businesses for decades. But without it, York risks a catastrophic economic collapse — with massive tax hikes and dangerous cuts to essential services.
Just how bad could it get? This year alone, York City homeowners and businesses would face a 48 percent tax hike and steep increases in service fees. It’s worth noting that they already pay the highest taxes in central Pennsylvania. Deep, painful cuts would be made to essential city services, including the York City Police Department.
But that’s not the York we believe in. We believe in a York whose best days are ahead of us and whose leaders, businesses and residents will join together to lift the city out of financial crisis and into economic prosperity.
The proposed $235 million sale of York’s wastewater system is more than just a financial commitment; it’s an economic signal that the York region is a smart investment with tremendous growth potential.
Pennsylvania American Water’s offer allows the city to strategically chart a path forward that increases economic opportunity for all York residents and businesses.
That mindset is a component of Pennsylvania American Water’s DNA. The company has a proven track record as a customer-centered and community-focused company with a deep commitment to corporate responsibility and the environment.
From McKeesport to Scranton, Fairview Township to Steelton — Pennsylvania American Water has brought financial stability to the communities it serves while also increasing reliability of wastewater treatment services.
The company has committed to not propose a rate increase for a minimum of three years. And it will invest millions of dollars to modernize and upgrade the York system to provide safe and reliable wastewater treatment services to the community for generations to come.
Meanwhile, the city’s proceeds from the asset sale will serve as a foundation for financial stability and a spark for economic growth.
Independent experts from the Pennsylvania Economy League agree the sale is York’s best hope of digging itself out of its perpetual and worsening budget hole. But we don’t need experts to tell us what we already know — that York is a great place to live, work and play. This opportunity will only make it better.
With this proposed public-private partnership, the future of York is looking brighter than ever.
— Michael Helfrich is mayor of York.
— Mike Doran is president of Pennsylvania American Water and senior vice president of American Water’s Mid-Atlantic Division.