An independent news publication of
United Way of Lancaster County


Home Rule Study Commission chair committed to having charter ready for November

PFM’s Gordon Mann, at podium, presents financial projections to the Lancaster Home Rule Study Commission on Thursday, May 24, 2024. Inset: Home Rule Study Commission Chairman Brian Adams. (Source: OUL file)

The presentation on city finances that Lancaster’s Home Rule Study Commission heard last month was “eye opening,” and underscores the need for the commission to work expeditiously, its chairman said Monday during his monthly update to City Council.

In his view, it is “absolutely imperative” to draft a home rule charter and have it approved by voters this November so it can take effect next year, Brian Adams told council members. He emphasized he was expressing his personal opinion, not speaking on behalf of the commission as a whole.

The presentation, delivered at the commission’s May 23 meeting by Gordon Mann of consulting firm PFM, shows that Lancaster is facing a roughly $10 million deficit in 2025.

(City Council learned later in Monday’s meeting that the figure may be lower than that, because a $5.9 million land purchase made with American Rescue Plan Act funds in 2021 is being refinanced, freeing up some ARPA funds for reallocation.)

Whatever the gap is, city government will have to close it with a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. At present, its only tool for increasing tax revenue is raising the property tax rate.

With home rule, it would also be able to raise the earned income tax. Because incomes tend to rise over time, proponents say there would be less need for future tax increases; moreover, the tax is proportional to income, whereas property taxes can burden low-income homeowners and seniors on fixed incomes.

On track?

The Home Rule Study Commission is aiming to have a draft charter ready toward the end of summer. Asked if it’s on track, Adams said he thinks so, but that he’s slightly less confident than he was last month.

The commission is currently drafting language spelling out Lancaster’s “form of government” — the rules that will govern the offices of mayor and City Council and appointed department heads. Still to come is discussion of budget and fiscal procedures, citizen participation (such as procedures for initiatives, referendum and recall) and discussion of authorities, boards and commissions, among other things.

Moreover, the question of City Council elections does not appear to be entirely settled. While a majority of commissioners approved moving forward with at-large elections, several members, notably Tony Dastra and Darlene Byrd, continue to advocate for elections by district.

The commission’s next two meetings are this Thursday, June 6, and Thursday, June 20. The commission has arranged for a third meeting on Saturday, June 29, if it’s needed to stay on schedule, Adams said; if the commission makes enough progress, however, it will not be held.