By Eric Menzer
So here we are. Our city government is in the news regularly, faced with difficult decisions about facilities, overtime, taxes, infrastructure and goodness knows how many other vexing decisions on a daily basis. All local governments, including the city, continue to be beset by declining property values that are now being translated into assessment appeals and reductions. The economy is clearly brightening, but the state revenue picture is challenging, and it is pretty clear nobody in Harrisburg is in any mood to provide any new direct financial assistance to any local government. Even counting on past levels of economic development funding appears risky.
David Rusk presented some pretty obvious ideas about how to lift the oppressive financial burden that’s preventing the real estate market in the city from responding to this opportunity, we continue to ignore the elephant in the room. We continue to debate what amount to pennies when we need dollars, and the frustrating thing is that the dollars are there for the taking.
Many economists will tell you that over long distances, tax rates are a consideration but not a definitive factor in business location or investment decisions. But that’s not what the city faces. We all know that one can go less than a mile from Continental Square and enjoy most of the benefits of living or working downtown or in a city neighborhood at a lower cost. We all know that trying to draw increasing revenue from the city’s geographically-limited tax base is like trying to draw blood from the proverbial stone. And we all profess to agree that a healthy core city with amenities that can be enjoyed by all is good for the region as a whole.
So, why can’t we talk about tax reform – both in terms of how they tax burden is spread, and where we derive local government revenue? Why are none of our elected officials willing to say that we should have a regional sales tax add-on to fund public-safety services that truly transcend municipal boundaries? Why can’t we have a county-level local income tax redistributed to municipalities to fund the tax-exempt property they host (including all those wonderful county and state parks in suburban and rural areas)? Why won’t a single leader say that property taxes levied at the local municipal level should be replaced by a system that would remove the oppressive yoke of fiscal doom from around the city’s neck?
Until we can go back and re-read the Rusk Report and find some courageous leaders who will come up out of the fox holes and lead on this issue, I fear that we’ll continue with the Titanic deck-chair arranging exercise we’re currently in. It would be a damn shame.
Eric Menzer is president of the York Revolution professional baseball team and manages the Codo Development Group, a real estate development company working in downtown York. Eric is active in community affairs and civic leadership at both the local and state level. He chairs the York County Community Foundation and serves on the boards of Downtown Inc, Better York, YorkCounts and the Crispus Attucks Association. He just concluded several years as Chairman of 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, a statewide policy-research and advocacy organization that promotes smart growth and urban revitalization, and he remains active on that board. Eric was previously the senior vice president of Wagman Construction in York. Prior to that, he served for eight years as York’s director of economic development and previously as the executive director of the York County Transportation Authority. He is a passionate baseball fan and lives in York with his wife and daughter.