York City Council’s first budget meeting, further dissected

It’s always tough to fit a three-hour meeting  into 10 inches of newsprint while on deadline. That’s just the way it is.

So it’s nice to have this space, to talk a little more today about the York city budget debate at city hall last night.

York City Council previously set two meetings (the second is next Thursday night) to discuss Mayor Kim Bracey’s proposed 2013 budget, which includes no tax increase.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, there were plenty of questions and no shortage of debate.

York City Council members gathered for a budget hearing on Tuesday night. The meeting was to start at 6 p.m., but because of confusion it didn’t begin until 6:30.

Much of that discussion focused on salaries, some of which under the mayor’s proposed budget would rise in 2013. Chief among those was an approximately $20,000 jump for the city’s assistant solicitor.

That brought questions from council — and drew outright disgust from Manuel Gomez, a frequent citizen participant at meetings — as those present tried to digest a jump to about $72,000.

Michael O’Rourke, city business administrator, said after the meeting non-union city employees generally get a small, cost-of-living raise each year. It’s a raise tied to the Consumer Price Index, and amounted to 1 percent last year. This year, the city is proposing a 2.3 percent increase for those employees, he said.

But in certain cases, O’Rourke said — especially for new employees — employment contracts have built-in incentives that include pay bumps for those who strive to get quickly up to speed. That’s why there could appear to be a large jump in some salaries, percentage-wise, he said.

The assistant solicitor is a special case, O’Rourke said. He came to city officials this year with word that a $1,500-per-month student loan payment schedule was about to start, and said without an increase in pay he’d have to seek work elsewhere, O’Rourke said.

Because the employee has done an excellent job, the mayor authorized the raise, O’Rourke said.

“He’s worth it,” O’Rourke said.

Salaries remained a question over the course of the night, in particular from Councilman Michael Helfrich, who continued to ask about the system O’Rourke said is in place to determine raises.

Also up for debate were the budgets for departments in the economic and community development sphere.

There, Helfrich questioned $5,000 budgeted to pay artists who play downtown. It’s an issue Helfrich raised during previous discussions. The city shouldn’t fund that project, he said, noting the musicians can “pay themselves.”

“They can open their guitar cases,” he said.

A line item of $15,000 to re-write the Historical Architectural Review Board (HARB) ordinance also drew discussion, mostly by those curious where that process will go. Kevin Schreiber, the city’s community and economic development director said the re-write will likely bring heated debate in the coming year.

On Twitter during the meeting, Gomez said: “I can promise it will.”

Gomez wasn’t the only one following the debate online Tuesday night. The department director of a city commission also weighed in, after discussion of further funding cuts for her organization.

Stephanie Seaton, the executive director of the Human Relations Commission who was recently placed on paid leave pending a review of her case files, took exception with cuts discussed by O’Rourke.

The HRC funding will drop about $19,000, from about $169,000 to $150,000, O’Rourke said. “There are things she wanted taken out,” he said, referencing the mayor.

“Oh the lies they tell,” Seaton tweeted.

A file photo by Kate Penn from last year’s budget talks shows council members Henry Nixon and Carol Hill-Evans. The budget process is picking up again this year.

Councilwoman Renee Nelson also took exception with the proposal, and questioned, among other things, how the city could reduce the HRC postage budget to 0.

Are they not supposed to mail anything? she asked.

“They mayor has not said not to mail things,” O’Rourke countered. The HRC simply must get that money elsewhere, he said.

Nelson asked that HRC members be present at a future meeting, to better understand what’s happening with that group.

Officials are set to meet next week for more budgeting, something several council members said will likely bring plenty of debate. It appears the city will dodge a tax hike this year, Helfrich said after the meeting.

But there’s still plenty to talk about, he said.

 What should officials keep in mind as they move toward approval of the 2013 budget?

About Tim Stonesifer

Tim Stonesifer is the York city reporter for the York Daily Record/Sunday News. Email him at tstonesifer@ydr.com, call 771-2032 or follow him on Twitter @timstonesifer.
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