29 November 2010

Have you found the Clear Blue Sky blog?

The blogger at Clear Blue Sky has started offering up some passionate, optimistic posts about the future of downtown York. The most recent post argues, with a long list of points, that York has reached a kind of tipping point, with momentum building toward what might be "a renaissance":
"Something exciting is going on in York -- something bigger than all the small stories put together. It's adding up to an authentic renaissance and a real success story in a central Pennsylvania town in the middle of one of the worst national economies in 70 years. ... Despite all the challenges, York is on a serious roll.

What's the difference today as compared to two years ago? Two words: outside money. The out-of-town residents, business owners, investors, artists and hipsters are starting to discover this gem. And the great part is that they can buy property relatively cheap because some local owners don't realize their town is hitting the tipping point. This is the free market working it's magic. This is the perfect storm."
Another post stresses the urgency of inspiring every child in York County - black and white, rich and poor - to seek their full potential.

Clear Blue Sky's love of community jumps off the page. Check it out.

- Dan Fink

22 November 2010

YorIT issues challenge

So you think you have good idea for downtown retail, but you're not sure how to find funding? The folks at YorIT might have an answer.

YorIT, a program of the York County Community Foundation, has launched the YorIT Social Venture Challenge to provide funding to the "next big idea." On Dec. 14, the public is invited to the former Futer Brothers building on Continental Square to hear a presentation on the challenge and to promote philanthropy and the YorIT program. The building was picked specifically as a place to have a conversation about the potential of downtown York. The Futer Brothers building, recently rehabbed and looking for tenants, is one of several key vacant downtown buildings that downtown supporters would like to see occupied.

Proposals are due Feb. 11. YorIT has about $18,000 available for worthwhile restaurant or retail proposals.

Click here to read a York Dispatch story about the venture challenge. Visit www.yorit.org/challenge or follow @YorITChallenge on Twitter for updates.

Update, 10:30 a.m. Nov. 24: Mandy Arnold, one of the co-chairs of the challenge, e-mailed me to clarify that the approximately $18,000 "will be available for ideas that can be a catalyst for retaining and attracting retail and restaurants" in York. She added: "While we may consider funding an actual restaurant/retail space, (applicants) need to make the case that it will foster continued growth of other retail and restaurants."

- Dan Fink

18 November 2010

The squeeze is on

It's budget time for local governments, the time when elected officials look at the numbers to see what it will take to balance their budgets without a property tax increase.

And rest assured, nobody wants to raise taxes.

Two stories this week show the difficult financial situations that municipalities across the county are facing.

In Seven Valleys, borough council is considering a proposed budget that would double the property tax from 0.6 mills to 1.2 mills, according to a story in the York Dispatch. The increase is needed to pay for a road maintenance project from two years ago:

The borough contracted York-based Stewart & Tate for milling and paving work on South and Maple Streets in 2008. The project cost about $255,000. The borough received about $115,000 in federal grants to help pay for the project. To cover the remaining expense, it took out a $140,000 bank loan from Peoples Bank.

Over the past two years, the borough has been paying back the 10-year loan by pulling money out of its general fund reserve, Bahn said. By the end of this year, Bahn said the borough will have about $90,000 remaining in the fund.The borough has eight annual payments -- about $17,500 each -- remaining on the loan.

And if it continues to pay for the loan by pulling money out of the fund each year, Bahn said, the borough will "go broke."
And a bit further south, New Freedom officials are seeing if they can get a better deal on police service, according to the York Daily Record. The borough pays about $500,000 a year for contracted service from Southern Regional Police Department. The department also provides service to Glen Rock, Railroad, Shrewsbury and the Southern York School district. The story suggests that if New Freedom leaves, the whole arrangement could be in jeopardy:

New Freedom gave notice during the summer that it would be looking to price options with other departments, officials said. It has been talking with Southwestern and York Area regional police departments. Some people have not been happy with Southern Regional's service, New Freedom Mayor Jeff Joy said, but he thinks they should give the new chief, James Boddington, a chance to fix problems.

Meanwhile, Glen Rock continues to annually review its options because of budget constraints and now, in light of New Freedom's move, Shrewsbury will weigh its options as well.
New Freedom could save several thousand dollars a year by switching to Southwestern Regional or York Area Regional departments. But they'll continue to have the same decision to make every year, depending on what their budget situation is. YorkCounts supports exploring whether a dedicated funding source - like a "police" tax that would be comparable to the current 911 tax on phone bills for emergency services - would provide a more stable financial model for regional departments.

But that discussion requires nuanced thinking. And that doesn't fit well in the current environment, where politicians just won elections by tapping into the "No tax increasses" mantra. Unfortunately, bumper-sticker thinking won't solve most of these problems. Local elected officials have some difficult choices to make. And if they do their homework and try to do the right thing, they should be applauded, not attacked.

Update, Nov. 19: Add Dallastown School District to the mix. The district held a community forum this week, and residents showed up simmering about property taxes and staff pay. Read the York Dispatch story here. Seems like there might be growing political support (that is, voter support) for new approaches to education - how we fund it, how we organize it.

- Dan Fink

07 November 2010

Live blogging from Gifts That Give Hope

We're at Gifts That Give Hope York, and more than 20 York County nonprofits have their displays set up and are ready to tell folks what they do. It's an unusual fundraising opportunity, organized by the Women's Giving Circle. Stop in and see if there's a special holiday gift for a friend or relative that will also support a local community improvement. We're all on the second floor. YorkCounts is in a corner room with Kevin from YorkArts, Julie from York Little Theatre, Joan from the York Junior Symphony and Trisha from the YWCA. Stop in and say hello.

Update, noon: Folks are beginning to trickle in after church and lunch. I spoke with a man who said he was interested in buying a gift of tickets to a York Symphony concert because his family supported the symphony when he was growing up in Iowa. That's the kind of personal connection this gift fair can generate.

Update 2, 3 p.m.: Mary Lou Alsentzer, the woman who put this together, said both local newspapers and a TV station have been in to cover the fair. So look for stories about the fair tonight and tomorrow on TV, in print and online.

Update 3, 11 a.m. Nov. 10: The first report from Mary Lou indicates more than $8,000 was raised at the event Sunday, with gifts averaging around $200. Remember: You can help increase that total through the holidays by buying gifts online at www.giftsthatgivehope.org/york/.

- Dan Fink