After debating a property tax increase that would enable the city to hire more police and firefighters, the York City Council has given initial OK to a $6.6 million budget with no tax increase and no added staff.
Several members of the council talked about the city’s need for more police and firefighters last week, when council members took the first of two required votes on the 2013-14 spending plan, which goes into effect Oct. 1.
“I want to feel safe,” said council member Denise Lowry, who said she was concerned about having as few as two firemen on duty at the fire department at certain times of day. “There has got to be a better way.”
During the Aug. 6 meeting, council member Ed Brown also expressed a concern about what he sees as a need for more police officers. “In the area I live in, we’re got something going on all the time,” he said.
City Manager Charles Helms offered a budget proposal with no tax or fee increases and no added staff. However, Helms also proposed an alternative that would enable the city to hire three more firefighters and two more police officers. That spending plan would require a property tax increase and a 10 percent rate increase in garbage collection fees, he said.
Under the proposed spending plan that would add the five employees, residential property taxes would need to increase by $16 per year on a $100,000 house, Helms said. In addition, under that plan the monthly garbage collection rate paid by residents would rise from $9.01 to $9.91 and the monthly landfill dumping fee would go up from $6.30 to $7.25, he said.
Helms said the proposed property tax increase would generate about $100,000 in new revenue, and the garbage fees would add about $82,000. That money could be used to hire the five additional employees, he said.
Before the council vote to approve the spending without a tax increase, Lowry expressed a concern about the double impact of the proposed property tax and fee increases on residents.
“I know we need the police officers. And I know we need the firemen,” Lowry said. “But some people are going to get double hit with the property taxes and the garbage rate increase.”
Mayor Eddie Lee argued against the tax increase, saying the council can return to the staffing issue early next year and evaluate the need for more police officers and firemen.
“The reality of the situation is, we’re still stuck in a recession,” Lee said.
Lee argued that council members should reconsider city staffing needs in January and hire more police and/or firefighters if the need is justified. He also said he questions the allocation of manpower in the police department, saying there is “one chief, one captain and six lieutenants.”
An initial motion to approve a budget with no tax increase ended in a 3-3 tie, with Lee and council members Bill Miller and Mike Fuesser voting in favor and council members Brown, Lowry and Charles Johnson voting against it. Councilman Mark Boley was absent.
After the tied vote, Lee continued to argue that the council should return to the staffing issue in January and evaluate it more carefully. “Economic development is the key to being able to hire extra police officers and extra firefighters and public works employees,” he said.
Lowry asked what would be different in January, noting that the council can only approve property taxes to raise more revenue once a year. However, Lee noted that city fees are generated by economic development.
Miller made a second motion, which was unanimously approved, to give initial approval to the spending plan without a tax increase, with the condition that the council would return to evaluate the need for city staffing in January.
A second and final vote on the spending plan is scheduled for the council’s Sept. 3 meeting.
In other business, the council also:
• Gave initial approval to a two-hour parking limit in downtown York, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. The area covered is the block of North Congress Street from Madison to Liberty streets. One more vote is required.
• Gave initial approval to a measure that regulates donation boxes by charitable agencies in the city to a size of not more than 480 cubic feet, a location in the side or rear yard of the establishment and requires that they are well-maintained and emptied on a regular basis. City officials said the proliferation of such boxes can create an eyesore and might hamper donations to the agencies. One more vote is required.