Mount Vernon, NY March 3, 2018, City Hall, Gun Reform Rally
Here are the Mount Vernon S.T.R.O.N.G. rappers with a protest song about gun reform. This rally featured speeches by Congressman Eliot Engel (NY-16) (D), Mayor Richard Thomas (D) and City Council Member Delia Farquharson (D). The rappers are young men attending Mount Vernon High School.
Gun Reform Rally
The premise of the gathering was to bring attention to the national crisis around school shooting and gun related deaths in general. The mother of Shamoya McKenzie, a 13 year-old who was murdered in 2017 in Mount Vernon, NY, an accidental victim of a gang shooting. Shamoya did nothing wrong except she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Politicians spoke, people applauded, but it’s unclear what the next steps are. Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY17) spoke in favor of legislation to restrict guns sales for people who are prohibited from flying as a result of prior records.
Mayor Richard Thomas organized this rally to build public support for municipal and community activities that could reduce gun violence. He proclaimed, “We’re ready to get on the bus…,” invoking the narrative of the civil rights marchers of the 1960’s.
Too many stray bullets end lives. Mount Vernon has had dozens of homicides in recent years, and most of them are gang related. The federal government could do much more to reduce the volume of guns in circulation, but they’re not. Engel alluded to working with Representative John Lewis (D-GA-5) in recent years, but they’re efforts are blocked by Republicans and Democrats who are beholden to the powerful NRA lobby.
If a song can push back on this lethal leadership quagmire, then play on.
The Pelham Board of Education (NY) met over the arc of a year to study and discuss issues around its physical plant. As a result, the Superintendent is now beating a drum for a bond referendum in May 2018 to replace the Hutchinson Elementary School at a cost of $42 million dollars.
The core proposal, to replace the 100 year-old building, is eminently justifiable, but the funding plan is not as well-formed. That could place the referendum at risk. Oddly, the Board has begun marketing the bond through a series of public meetings even though the full scope of the capital requirements has not been decided.
Superintendent Cheryl Champ calls out (go to 20:05) a hefty tax hike prediction of $480 per year for every “average” Pelham home; however, that’s only for the $42 million dollar Hutchinson build. If the full scope is actually say, $55 million, then the average homeowner would pay even more, just to service debt. All this is on top of inevitable annual tax increases required by the operational budget.
Second, if the Trump tax cuts are enacted, homeowners will suffer some or total loss in deductibility of mortgage interest and of SALT (state and local taxes). If that happens, the Pelham bond would be a non-starter without some substantial offset.
Third, basic the question of how to pay for the capital improvements seems to have only one answer. The Board’s position lands like this: “We need a new building, and maybe more. Whatever it costs, taxpayers pay.” That might have been enough in a different era. In 2017’s Westchester County, there needs to be much more creativity around how to make the infrastructure investments revenue neutral. Dumping it on top of already super high taxes? That’s so 2007.
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Recommendations for Pelham Board of Education
1. Re-zone the existing Hutchinson property along Lincoln Avenue to maximize it’s market value, then sell it or lease it and use the proceeds to help pay for the new building.
2. Construct the new building elsewhere on the same property. Keep the field as-is. The Lincoln Avenue side has substantial commercial value.
3. If this round of improvements will extend to other schools, then go to the public with the fullness of the plan.
4. Consider waiting until current borrowings are retired, then commence new.
Sadly, FaceBook is beginning to brew with the low-lying provincialism and racism that always seems to surface in public discourse around education. Pelham School Board: Before the noise level escalates, figure out how to pay for the new building, and this community will likely support it.
Board of Education Town Hall Meeting, November 13, 2017