York City mayor's annual address focuses on education


York City Mayor Kim Bracey called for a "fresh start" after more than two years of high-stakes and often divisive debate over the future of the financially and academically struggling York City School District.

In her annual State of the City Address, Bracey said the community cannot let ideology displace long-term goals or deter confrontation of the "real nemeses" — poverty, inequality and dysfunction at home.

"We are stronger because of our dialogue over the last two years," Bracey said.

The challenges are difficult, she said Thursday, "but poverty and challenges are not an excuse for apathy and failure."

"A nurturing home life is as important as good schooling," Bracey said.

Gov. Tom Wolf's office announced in March that Bracey will co-chair a "community action committee" with the district's new state-appointed chief recovery officer, Carol Saylor.

In that role, Bracey pledged Thursday to develop a "transformative" plan for the district. She said all students "deserve a world-class education."

Bracey also coined a new phrase: the empty pool theory — a spin on the broken-window theory that ties neighborhood aesthetics to the health of a community.

At William Penn Senior High School, students walking the halls between classes often pass the school's empty pool, visible through large windows. That sends a message, Bracey said, that students are "not worthy."

"We have to do better by our city kids," she said. "We have to."

This year, Bracey addressed the city's educational needs more than she has in her previous four speeches. But she also touched on familiar topics.

Finances: The mayor reiterated that the city has held the line on property taxes for the past three years "while not sacrificing public safety."

York City property owners pay far more in property taxes than in any of York County's other 71 municipalities.

Bracey said Thursday that a 15-percent decrease in the city's property-tax rate could be achieved over the next five years.

She said Wolf's 2015-16 budget proposal could be a "game changer" for cities like York. State pension and union-arbitration reform are also crucial, she said.

But even if reform is achieved and the governor's budget passes as proposed, "We are still not out of the woods," she said.

Bracey said her administration is pursuing economic-development projects, including the conclusion of the Northwest Triangle, where Santander Stadium opened nine years ago.

With private companies like Think Loud Development and Royal Square Development investing in the city, York is approaching its long-sought "critical mass," Bracey said.

Announcements: Bracey's speech included several tidbits of news, including a $100,000 pledge from WellSpan to purchase body cameras for all York City police officers.

She said WellSpan has also agreed to fund the position of the city's medical director, who currently earns about $100,000.

Bracey said the city will partner with the York County Community Foundation to create a parks conservancy.

Finally, the mayor said she intends to create a task force of people responsible for planning the celebration of York's 275th anniversary next year.

— Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com