By a unanimous 7-0 vote, City Council passed Lancaster’s 2020 budget Tuesday evening.
It does not raise property taxes, which will remain at 11.7 mills. One mill is $1 per $1,000 of assessed value, so a property valued at $100,000 will pay $1,170.
The budget does, however, require increases in water, sewer and trash fees, also passed unanimously on Tuesday. For a typical city homeowner, they will be, respectively, $28.50, $17.67 and $5 per quarter, which works out to $51.17, or $204.68 over a full year.
For lower-income households, that’s a significant burden, former mayor Art Morris told council members. He criticized city officials’ suggestion that residents could offset the rate hikes to a large extent by reducing their water usage.
“That’s not the solution for poor people,” he said, and urged council and the administration to work harder to keep rates down.
The water and sewer fee increases are to help fund infrastructure work, including efforts needed for the city to comply with a federal mandate to reduce sewer overflows into the Conestoga River during heavy storms. The hike in trash fees anticipates higher trash volumes and tipping fees due to the disruption of the global recycling market.
The city’s stormwater fee remains unchanged.
During public comments, council heard a plea from members of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee, a local anti-poverty group, not to shut off water to homeowners who haven’t completed the city’s mandatory water meter upgrade. Last week, the city said it would refrain until further notice from shutoffs at rental properties, but would proceed at owner-occupied ones that don’t respond to final warnings by making an appointment.
Group co-coordinator Tammy Rojas also urged council to oppose UPMC Pinnacle’s petition to rezone the former St. Joseph’s hospital property to mixed-use, saying the change would promote gentrification, to the detriment of ordinary Lancastrians. The petition is on the agenda for the Planning Commission meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18, at City Hall.
Finance committee chairman Chris Ballentine, whose term on council is drawing to a close, enlivened what would otherwise have been a routine synopsis of council’s Dec. 7 budget hearing by delivering it as a Jimmy Fallon-inspired “special slow jam” backed by a remix of “One More Chance” by The Notorious B.I.G. His performance earned appreciative laughter and a round of applause.
“Just when you think you’ve seen it all,” commented Councilman John Graupera.