Carol Hill-Evans227 Irving Rd; YorkRunning for York City Council
Carol Hill-Evans 227 Irving Rd; York Running for York City Council

A majority of York City Council members said they are willing to consider authorizing a new tax in 2015 that would reach into the pockets of many more people.

The distressed pension earned income tax — more commonly known as the commuter tax — has been on the city's menu of revenue-generating options for the past several years.

But, so far, city officials have been able to balance York's budgets without wading into the controversial waters of taxing commuters' earnings.

That might change next year.

"It's a very real possibility," Council President Carol Hill-Evans said Tuesday.

Hill-Evans said she believes the tax could spread more fairly the cost of city services among everyone who uses those services — both residents and commuters.

Councilwoman Renee Nelson said she's open to the idea, particularly if it offsets the need for a property-tax increase.

Councilmen Michael Helfrich and Henry Nixon said they'll also consider the tax if Mayor Kim Bracey's administration proposes it as part of the 2015 budget.

While some council members said there's been discussion behind the scenes about the commuter tax, Bracey and several members of her administration did not respond to multiple requests for comment about what is under consideration.

Former business administrator Michael O'Rourke detailed the specifics of the commuter tax when city officials considered it in previous years, however.

Option: The distressed pension earned income tax is not an option everywhere.


York qualifies under Act 205 because of its distressed pension fund, a longtime symptom of the city's widespread financial problems.

City officials have weighed the pros and cons of levying the tax since at least 2011, when Philadelphia-based consulting firm Public Financial Management recommended the tax as one way to generate revenue.

PFM predicted in the report that, without drastic measures, York City would face a $50 million deficit by the end of 2016.

In its 2011 report, PFM estimated the city could generate $2.9 million in 2012 if it implemented the tax at a rate of 0.35 percent on both residents and non-residents.

Existing taxes: The commuter tax would supplement York's existing earned-income tax, which the city splits with the school district.

Commuters are subject to the current 1 percent earned-income tax, but it reverts to the person's home municipality if he or she lives in a Pennsylvania municipality that also collects the tax — as all 72 York County municipalities do, according to the PFM report.

The distressed pension earned income tax would also be in addition to the emergency municipal services/local services tax, which is levied at a flat rate of $52 on anyone who works within city limits.

The tax is intended to supplement fire, police and street maintenance budgets otherwise supported by residents.

Commuter tax: In order to collect the tax from a commuter, the city's earned-income tax rate would need to be higher than the total earned-income tax rate a person pays to his or her home municipality and school district.

So, for example, a commuter who already pays 1 percent of his or her income wouldn't have to pay anything to the city unless the city increases its 1 percent tax rate.

And that would likely impact working city residents.

Concessions: Nixon said he'll consider the commuter tax, "but only if there are deep cuts or concessions on the part of the unions."

"Something else has to give," he said.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Nixon called on the city's labor unions to voluntarily offer concessions.

Otherwise, he said, the city might have to cut firefighter or police officer positions in 2015.

"I'm worried about their safety," Nixon said. "But I also recognize that there's no possible way that the citizenry can keep coming up with more money."

Nixon said he will not vote in favor of a budget that hikes the city's property-tax rate in 2015.

"I'm drawing that line right now," he said.