York County budget hearing draws vulnerable agencies

jzou@heraldonline.comMay 28, 2014 

— Agencies most susceptible to potential cuts in the upcoming York County budget appeared before the county council during a public hearing Wednesday night, appealing for continued support.

Keystone – the county’s substance abuse authority – is one of several agencies that could be hurt if Councilman Michael Johnson gains enough support for “cuts across the board” for services not mandated by state or federal regulations.

The agency is one of several “non-essential,” recurring county expenditures on a list compiled by Johnson that could see reduced support to fund additional staff requested by county departments during a Tuesday night budget workshop.

Johnson – who has grown increasingly receptive to raising property taxes in recent budget sessions – said cutting recurring costs are needed if the council pursues any new hires requested by the county coroner, probate court and other essential offices.

The council is mulling a property tax increase that would add $6 more annually on a $20,000 vehicle and $20 more on a $100,000 residential home. But that increase would only cover a cost-of-living salary increase for existing staff and a handful of state-mandated hires.

Only two residents attended Wednesday’s public hearing, which consisted largely of county employees and agencies that could lose out in thousands of dollars annually if council members pursue cuts or reject the tax increase.

Safe Passage – a nonprofit that serves area women and children affected by sexual abuse and assault – also appeared before the council.

“Don’t just sit here and say ‘No,’ ” said Johnson, who claimed he was the only council member who prepared a list of specific cuts amounting to more than $600,000 annually as an alternative for those on council adamantly opposing any tax increase. “It’s easy to talk about (cuts) in theory.”

Four votes on the council are needed to pass the budget and the council will vote on a final reading of the budget in mid-June.

“It’s a tiny drop in the bucket,” Johnson said of his list, but noted the amount could fund five new employees. He said he intends to spur dialogue among council members.

“If we don’t adjust the millage rate, we’d essentially run the county to the ground in 2019,” said council Chairman Britt Blackwell, who is one of few that have publicly supported the full staff-recommended tax increase. “We’re bare bones now.”

Others such as councilmen Joe Cox and Bruce Henderson have vouched for little to no increase.

Blackwell said he thinks Johnson is trying to appeal to those on the council who are unwilling to raise taxes to look critically at cuts. Johnson said he was genuine about his proposed cuts and will present them during Monday night’s meeting.

“It’s a humbling experience to see how the decisions we’re making affect people,” Councilman Bump Roddey said of the agencies. Roddey also supports the tax increase and finding a way to fund additional employees requested by departments.

“We can’t be blind to the fact we’re a growing county,” said Roddey, who has asked council members several times to consider how “these cuts are going to look like five years down the road.”

He also said he trusts staff recommendations. “This is what they do day in and day out,” he said of the county manager’s office and the treasurer’s office. “We’re kind of part time.”

Jie Jenny Zou •  803-329-4062

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