EDITORIAL: City budget sends poor message

York Dispatch

This is York City Mayor Kim Bracey's eighth year in office. She's no newcomer to the budgeting process.

Bracey has threatened to cut the number of police and firefighters to get the city's finances in order. She has pushed through cuts in property taxes and increases in sewer rates in just the past couple of years.

For her final act before vacating the office in January, Bracey gave the York City Council a budget that includes a property tax cut that will actually save homeowners more than the amount they will see their refuse bill increase by.

And, by the way, it also includes large raises for three administrators and smaller raises for seven more.

After two hours of debate that seemed to change no one's mind, the City Council approved the budget by a 3-2 vote Tuesday, Dec. 5, with no changes, with Mayor-elect Michael Helfrich and Renee Nelson voting against it and Henry Nixon, Judy Ritter-Dickson and Sandie Walker voting to approve.

As a result, Michael Doweary’s salary as business administrator will jump nearly $16,000 to $110,000, while Shilvosky Buffaloe, the acting director of economic and community development, will pocket an extra $11,248 for a total of $95,000 in 2018.

More:Bracey proposes tax cut, fee increase, salary hikes in 2018 York City budget

Bracey also pushed through a nearly $11,000 raise for the director of community affairs,  Edquina Washington.

The mayor says these raises would put York on a more even footing with comparable cities in Pennsylvania after she had Doweary look at the pay rates for similar positions in six Pennsylvania cities — Reading, Lancaster, Bethlehem, Harrisburg, Allentown and Erie. For eight of the positions he looked at, pay in York was below the average from the other cities, so the increases in next year's budget would bring York up to that level, Bracey said.

The whole thing puts Helfrich in a very bad position.

York City Mayor Kim Bracey thanks her sister and campaign manager, Candace Robinson, left, during a concession speech at Coomb's Tavern in York City Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

He faced a Catch-22: Vote for the raises and backtrack on the concern for fiscal responsibility that he made a major part of his campaign; or vote against the raises and start his term as mayor by taking away raises from the top members of his administration.

“I think it is a poor decision for an outgoing administrator to put the incoming administrator in this position. I feel like I have been placed in a no-win situation,” Helfrich said. 

And that's precisely where it appears Bracey wanted him to be.

This is an incredibly passive-aggressive move for the outgoing mayor. We have to wonder if these same raises would have been in the budget if Bracey had won the election and would be staying on as mayor.

Michael Helfrich makes final adjustments to his acceptance speech after receiving a call from incumbent Mayor C. Kim Bracey, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Bracey has pulled strong-arm moves on budget matters in the past. In 2014, she threatened to cut 46 police officers and eight firefighters from the city budget until the White Rose Fraternal Order of Police union agreed to cuts in pension benefits and an increase in the retirement age, followed by similar concessions by the firefighters union.

She has followed through on her Vision 2020 plan, which would cut property taxes by 15 percent by 2020 by starting with decreases of 1 percent in 2016, 2 percent in 2017 and a proposed 4 percent in 2018 and concluding with an 8 percent decrease in 2019. But at the same time sewer rates increased by 4.1 percent for 2017, and the budget for 2018 has a 50 cent per month increase for refuse collection.

But this move seems to be almost purely meant to make things as difficult as possible for Helfrich. 

Bringing York up to an average of pay with other cities without looking at such things as education, experience and performance, especially when looking at cities that are all larger than York, seems an arbitrary method of assigning salary increases, especially for an executive who will no longer be in charge. 

This action sabotages the next administration before it begins and we would argue it's a poor final step for a two-term mayor.