With potential tax increases, proposed service cuts and expanding county staff on the table, Wednesday’s meeting in York was the public’s chance to sound off on York County’s budget for next year.
But most of those who spoke during Wednesday’s hearing were heads of agencies and other organizations seeking to either maintain county funding or ask for more funding to cover a new need.
At earlier meetings, the York County Council had discussed potential tax increases for next year to cover increasing costs, including 21 new county employees. The current budget proposal includes a 2-percent increase in property taxes, and some fire districts have proposed their own tax increases to pay for increasing services.
Other departments have said they need money for additional staff to meet growing demand as the county continues to add population and development.
In order to avoid raising taxes on county residents, the council has looked at areas for potential budget cuts. Some “direct assistance” agencies – entities that are not county departments but provide required social services with public funding – may see their funding cut back to the legal minimum.
Some of those agencies made their cases directly to the council Wednesday night. Janet Martini, executive director of Keystone Substance Abuse Services, argued the agency saves the county funding on services it would otherwise be required by state law to provide directly.
“Keystone provides a lot of its services to people without an ability to pay,” Martini said. “Our detox center spends $1,800 per detox patient. In a hospital setting, it would be $4,000 to $5,000.”
Keystone has not received equivalent funding in recent years from Chester and Lancaster counties, Martini said. Services for Lancaster County residents are now paid for with a grant, while Chester County residents have simply been told they won’t be a priority when spaces are being reserved.
Other similar agencies, the Council on Aging and Safe Passage, also asked to keep funding at current levels. Safe Passage director Jada Charley told the council her agency’s assistance on child abuse investigations, rather than having the cost come from law enforcement, saved the county $1,000 per child, or more than $200,000 last year.
One speaker not representing an agency was Joe Sherrill of Rock Hill. Sherrill’s stepson is in a supervised living facility managed by the Disabilities and Special Needs Board, and he wanted to see that the board’s funding doesn’t get cut.
“He’s living semi-independently, but it gives him structure and (he’s provided) his medication,” Sherrill said. “Over the years, I’ve gotten to know them all quite well ... . The money couldn’t be better spent.”
Officials had their own requests. York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said his office needs an incentive to keep more of his people on the job. He said “isolated” police shootings that have received national attention have cast law enforcement jobs in a bad light and are driving people from the profession.
“We train them, and then they go home and hear from their momma and daddy or their spouse that they don’t want them in that line of work,” he said.
As one such incentive, Bryant wants to offer deputies a $1 per hour increase when working a 12-hour night shift. All deputies rotate between a day and night schedule every 28 days. He asked the council not to wait for the results of a salary study to fund the change.
To cover all patrol, detention center and communications staff on the night shift would cost an additional $221,000.
Bryant also told council he felt the county’s elected officials had been left out of the budget-writing process so far, saying he’d never before had to wait until a public hearing to make the case for his office’s budget. The County Council held a separate budget session two weeks earlier for York County department heads.
Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said members felt the public hearing was the most appropriate place for elected officials to make their presentation.
Bristow Marchant • 803-329-4062