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Mayor Kim Bracey led residents, community organizers and local business leaders on a virtual tour of York City on Tuesday night, highlighting the progress that has been made and the plans that are in place in its many neighborhoods.

Bracey delivered her 2017 State of the City address to nearly 150 people at the Valencia Ballroom. She said she refused to use the event to speak about the city’s past and insisted on focusing guests’ attention on the city’s future and long-term fiscal health.

Bracey touted her administration’s push for property-tax reductions and said the city has a strategic plan in place to continue recent tax cuts in the coming years.

Since 2013, city officials have worked to reverse the trend of ever-increasing property-tax rates, and after holding the tax rate even in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the city’s last two budgets have included property-tax cuts, Bracey said.

Bracey’s Vision 2020 plan calls for a 4 percent property-tax reduction in 2018, followed by an 8 percent cut in 2019 in order to meet her administration's goal of cutting property taxes 15 percent by 2020.

New initiatives: The mayor, who is in her eighth year in office, laid out new initiatives to protect and secure the revitalization and progress York City has made under her watch.

Bracey said city officials are working with local shop owners to provide fresh food at corner stores and put an end to fresh food “deserts” in the city, and she called for universal access to pre-kindergarten and other early education services for York City youth.

Fifty percent of children ages 3 and 4 in the York City School District are eligible for free pre-K, but quality education must be provided to all city youth, Bracey said.

“The cost of action is less than the long-term cost of inaction,” Bracey said, highlighting the value of early childhood education for future career success.

In one of several noteworthy announcements Tuesday, Bracey said the city has secured an Elm Street project designation for its Salem Square neighborhood, which will “fast track” funding opportunities and grants to rehabilitate the area.

The revitalization project in Salem Square represents the city’s second Elm Street neighborhood, after Old Towne East received the state’s first Elm Street designation more than a decade ago.

Bracey also talked about her plan to create community centers called “WINS” — We Inspire Neighborhoods — that will serve as satellite locations for neighborhood police officers and provide residents with nutrition, health and career resources, among other things.

Bracey used her speech to thank Robert Lambert, president and CEO of Martin Library, for leading the push to open a new neighborhood library in the Salem Square neighborhood that will serve as the first WINS location in the city.

WellSpan Hospital has pledged to contribute $250,000 over the next three years to the Martin Library at Salem Square project and to open a second WINS location in York City, Bracey said.

Bracey was absent from a York City mayoral candidate forum with Michael Helfrich last week because she was visiting Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians to discuss a city parks program.

On Tuesday, Bracey announced the fruits of those labors — the first York City Parks Conservancy — in an attempt to offset and rein in the costs of maintaining a public parks system.

The new conservancy means the city will be able to maintain and “keep parks in perpetuity, beyond most of us,” Bracey said.

Bracey defended her city against criticism from those who live outside the city limits, saying she’s heard the “faint, but not so faint, dog whistles” and the “subtle, but not so subtle, scapegoating by some who cynically use the city, its poverty and its children as political pawns or punching bags.”

“This city is our city. These young people are our young people. Those people are you and me,” Bracey said. “And they are our greatest hope for building a great county seat with liberty, justice and opportunity for all."

'Two York cities': Helfrich said he was unable to attend Bracey's address Tuesday night as he was in Virginia with his daughter. When asked about what he thinks the state of York City is, Helfrich said, "There are two York cities."

There has been a "burst of wonderful investors" that is "almost entirely focused in the downtown area," but surveys of York City students show that more than 20 percent of them have lived in more than one place in the past year, Helfrich said.

"There's the York City that's on the books — the financial part of York City and the downtown," Helfrich said. "Then there's what people throughout the neighborhoods are experiencing."

Though he applauds many of the initiatives Bracey laid out, Helfrich said he is not satisfied with the progress that has been made during her time in city government.

Bracey served as the director of the city's department of community and economic development from 2003 until becoming mayor in January 2010.

"She's had 14 years to go into the communities and address the problem that people are having in our neighborhoods," Helfrich said. "I'm personally not satisfied with the progress that we've made, and if others want someone who is focused on the individuals, the families, of York City, then I'm their mayor."

— Reach Jason Addy at jaddy@yorkdispatch.com or follow him on Twitter at @JasonAddyYD.

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