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City Council Meeting Minutes

December 29, 2011


CALL TO ORDER: City Council convened in Special Session on Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 12:02 p.m. in Council Chambers, 1 Marketway West, 3rd Floor, York, PA, with the following Council members present: Renee S. Nelson, Henry Hay Nixon, Toni Smith, Carol Hill-Evans, Vice President, and Genevieve H. Ray, President, with President Ray presiding.
Members of the Administration in attendance included: Mayor C. Kim Bracey, and Business Administrator Michael O'Rourke. Also in attendance was Assistant Solicitor Mark Elion.
Members of York City Council Staff in attendance included: Dianna L. Thompson, City Clerk
Vice President Hill-Evans presented letters of recognition to Council President Genevieve Ray and Councilwoman Toni Smith for their years of service to the City of York. Members of Council spoke kind words of Councilwomen Ray and Smith and wished them well as their terms of membership on Council have come to an end.
Mayor Bracey then presented certificates of appreciation to Councilwomen Ray and Smith and spoke kind words.
President Ray explained that this special meeting was called in order to consider passage of the 2012 proposed York City Budget, 2012 tax rate, and related items. However, she said we are still attempting to fill a $1.8 million gap. She stated that Council proposed certain cuts that ranged from $384,000 to $830,000 and then presented its recommendations to the Mayor. The Mayor has responded back to Council with her comments on recommendations for potential cuts. However, President Ray said what the Mayor's recommendations nor Council's recommendations close that $1.8 million budget gap. Therefore, Council will not consider passage of the 2012 budget or related documents but will continue to work between now and December 31st to close that gap. As such, she stated that Council will continue today's meeting to Saturday, December 31, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. 
Business Administrator O'Rourke responded to the potential cuts. He said the Mayor reviewed the recommendations by Council. He said the original budget included an 11% tax increase, fee levying, and purchase options. Unfortunately, it was found that one of those fees, the streetlights fee, was illegal. He said the Administration also proposed taking back the parking system and ice arena, which Council chose not to do support. With all of those issues, Administrator O'Rourke said this is what created the $1.8 million gap. He relayed that the Mayor has concluded that:
  1. The revenue increase with relations to the payment in lieu of taxes (PIOLOT) from tax-exempt entities has not been secured.
  2. The Mayor would be comfortable adding an additional $100,000 in PILOT fees but cannot determine how much would actually be contributed.
  3. Upon review of the proposed expenditure reductions, the Mayor is willing to agree to reduce $500 in the salary of the Council President, eliminate purchase of furniture, remove Council travel, delete public newspaper funding, and remove 8 months of the Weed & Seed Coordinator salary, and reclassify the Human Relations Commission Executive Director to a Human Relations investigator.

Administrator O'Rourke said the Mayor's current recommendations would result in $89,000 in budget cuts and revenue of about $100,000, which would result in a tax increase of 21.02 mils, which would be a $184 impact on a $50,000 home or $368 on $100,000 home. Additionally, he relayed that Mayor Bracey does not support decreasing firefighters or freezing cost of living allowances for employees. He said she objected to this proposal because employees affected by those cuts will be the ones paying for the fees and tax increase and with benefit payments going up she felt we must accommodate those employees.
President Ray then asked about cutting the Martin Library contribution. Administrator O'Rourke explained that we must contribute as provided by law unless we choose to amend the law. (See Article 155 “Public Library Funding” of the Codified Ordinances)
Council and Administrator O'Rourke then discussed other recommendations for budget cuts derived from Council's budget work session. President Ray asked if the Administration is open to further negotiations on the budget. Business Administrator O'Rourke responded that they are.
William Henry Swartz, III, city property owner, said he supports maintaining public safety and those positions should not be used as a pawn. He said the Mayor presented a budget that didn't propose cutting officers. The Council made some mistakes by not following the recommendations of the Mayor and now there are consequences and desperate cuts are now realized. Mr. Swartz said blame for the shut down, if the budget does not pass, will lie solely on Council's laps. He supports raising taxes to maintain public safety positions.
Councilwoman Smith said in 1990's, police positions were cut to about 85 sworn officers and drug dealers were coming into the city by the droves because they knew we didn't have enough police to adequately protect our city. She said people need to feel safe and to cut public safety would be a mistake.
Cindy Martin, city resident, stated that she appreciates the work of our public safety personnel but said we can't afford this tax increase and maybe we should take a look at the benefits or retirement packages as they might be set too high.
Michael Helfrich, city resident, stated that this will mean a $200 increase in his property taxes. He explained that Council was presented a budget with a $600,000+ revenue stream from a streetlight fee that was found to be illegal. At that point, he said it was the responsibility of the Mayor and her Administration to close that gap and come to Council with a balanced budget and not to just lay it in Council's lap. Also, he said the parking system is estimated at more revenue than what was realized. Additionally, the ice arena didn't generate the revenue projected, which he said is not Council's fault. Mr. Helfrich said Council was presented an unbalanced budget and that this is not just about the police officers or other positions. Drastic measures have to be made because we are in a drastic time, he said, and he respectfully requested that the Mayor and her staff reconsider the $3,200 allocated for reward gifts and take a look at the 2% COLA and determine who really needs that COLA. He then discussed various other cuts recommended by Council and asked that the Administration take a look at what we can live without. Mr. Helfrich said it is up to the Mayor and her staff to make the reduction recommendations and that they can't abandon their responsibilities and plop this in the laps of Council. Lastly, Mr. Helfrich said we need to start the budget process a lot earlier next year because it's ridiculous to be sitting here at the 11th hour trying to figure out this budget.
Jane Heller, non-city resident, said years ago downtown York was thriving but it has diminished since then. She said residents are moving to other cities and businesses are closing so we need to figure out how to bring these people and businesses back. She stated that we need police but we also need to make more cuts. Ms. Heller said you cannot expect people to stay here if you continue to increase taxes.
Joanne Borders, city resident, said she feels safe with the current compliment of police officers and firefighters and she supports retention of our public safety positions. She said just a few days ago we had a tremendous fire that required 50 firefighters to put out. Ms. Borders stated that the face of crime has changed and technology has gotten better so we need to keep abreast of those advances and said she is willing to make financial sacrifices to save our public safety positions.
President Ray thanked everyone for attending today's special session and sharing their comments. She said said she would like to take the Mayor up on her offer to take the next day or two to try to decrease the tax burden. She said Council is not using public safety positions as a pawn and she's open to new ideas to help reduce this budget. She then briefly discussed some of revenue ideas, such as entering discussions on the York Water Company taking over the water system process, and Homestead Exclusion, which is a process to offer some tax relief to homeowners.
Administrator O'Rourke interjected why he felt the York Water Company idea wouldn't work and how we do not have Homestead Exclusion authority. President Ray responded that these are just ideas she considered and would be willing to discuss and find answers. In any event, President Ray said Council is committed to working very hard with the Administration to fix this budget.
ADJOURNMENT: There being no further discussion, President Ray continued the meeting to December 31, 2011 at 10:00 a.m. in Council Chambers. (The meeting recessed at 1:27 p.m.)