EDITORIAL: York City budget doesn't add up
- Shifting from property taxes to trash and sewer fees isn't going to help most city families.
- It may help higher-income families and businesses, however.
- We think the mayor should go back to the drawing board.
York City Mayor Kim Bracey is in a bind.
On the one hand, she has promised to trim property taxes to promote development and encourage businesses to locate in the city,
On the other hand, she has to balance the budget each year.
She's made strides toward lowering the city's costs by gaining pension concessions from both the police and firefighters unions. The city is nearly caught up on its pension obligations, and it will have gotten rid of its operating deficit by the end of the year, business administrator Michael Doweary said.
The $47.7 million budget Bracey presented to the city council on Nov. 15 is balanced, even with a 2 percent reduction in the property-tax rate.
But along with that reduction, Bracey has proposed an increase in the monthly fee for trash collection and in the sewer rate.
Under the budget as it stands, city residents would see the millage cut from 20.16 mills to 19.75 mills, which would reduce the tax bill for a $50,000 home in the city from $1,008 to $987.50.
At the same time, sewer bills would rise from $8.75 per 1,000 gallons of water used each month to between $9.25 and $9.65, and trash bills would go up by $1 for residents and $2 per month for businesses.
Let's see, a $20.50 reduction in property tax, accompanied by an additional $12 for trash collection and an additional $24 or so for the sewer bill each year.
This reduction in property tax would cost an average family about $15.50 a year.
That's not how it's supposed to work, Mayor Bracey.
We understand that you have a grand plan, Vision 2020, to reduce property taxes in the city by 15 percent, with a 1 percent reduction this year, 2 percent in 2017, 4 percent in 2018 and 8 percent in 2019. And that's great, property taxes in York City are by far the highest in York County and need to go down.
But shifting the income from property taxes to trash and sewer fees isn't really helping the families who live in your city who are struggling to pay the bills.
"We're picking winners and losers. The big winners when taxes are reduced are the people that own commercial real estate and the people that own the most valuable houses in the city," council president and mayoral candidate Michael Helfrich said. "The people that will lose big are renters with families and those that have property values of less than approximately $75,000."
If any of this sounds familiar, there's a reason: The city went through the same discussion last year, when Bracey reduced property taxes by 1 percent and wanted to increase sewer fees by 50 cents per 1,000 gallons for 2016.
Last year, the city council turned down the sewer-rate increase on the grounds that raising fees on working families was no way to pay for a tax reduction that benefits higher-income families and businesses more. Last year, the council reduced the sewer maintenance budget to make up for the loss of revenue.
For Bracey to turn around and make the same suggestion this year is disingenuous.
Yes, York City's property taxes should be reduced. But a reduction that costs families more money isn't really a reduction.
We're depending on the city council to do some creative manipulation again as it begins to discuss the 2017 budget at Tuesday's meeting. Because the budget as it stands doesn't add up.