Saturday, February 26, 2011

SMMS Talent Show

I had an amazing experience last night. The Middle School portion of SMMHS held a talent show. This has been a longstanding event at the Middle School. It is sponsored by the PTA and put on purely by volunteers, led by Rick and Tracy Faulkner and assisted by my wife, Snoda, though there was faculty help by John Lennon, Theatre teacher and wrestling coach. I don't have the exact number of kids who performed, but it was more than double of last year. Over 30 acts with more than 40 kids sang, danced, played, acted and rapped for a standing room only audience.

While I confess that that the rhythms weren't always metronomic and the pitches weren't always perfect, the enthusiasm and courage of these kids was awesome. Several accompanied themselves on instruments including guitars, harp and a very nice mandolin performance, while others sang to recorded music. There were several skits, an outstanding baton/dance routine, a hilarious Canadian rap song and something called the "chicken wing song" (you had to be there) among many others.

I would be remiss not to mention my daughter, Mary Eliza who performed three songs on her harp including singing "My Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music and also appeared in a skit that she wrote herself and put on with several friends. I certainly know how hard she worked on her performances and I'm sure the others did as well.

The evening finished with two rock bands, Battlefield and OCD. This topped the evening off with a huge amount of energy. I hope to see more of these guys soon (and am already working on other opportunities for them to play).

Finally, I have to mention the audience. First, I must say that when the school was being built I was disappointed that they didn't include a full-size auditorium. Both high schools I attended had full sized auditoriums for assemblies, pep rallies, band and chorus concerts and theatre productions. I was told that if such an auditorium were built, "it would never be used". However, I know that the small theatre at SMMHS is in great demand for all sorts of school and community activities and we were concerned last night about turning people away to keep the fire marshall happy. However, the audience that was there was impressive in their behavior. Filled with adults and many students, they were quiet and respectful during performances, applauded even the most awkward moments and gave standing ovations to several outstanding performances. The support that these kids showed for their fellow performers and students was impressive. We have a great school filled with great kids. There is an amazing amount of talent at this school, on and off the athletic field! I would urge all citizens, even those without kids at the school to start attending some of these performances and see what the future holds. Believe me, it is bright indeed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New taxes??

Interesting article in the Wednesday supplement yesterday for those who missed it (  The Town Council is finally acknowledging that revenues are a concern. This issue was raised in the recent election, but was downplayed. Susan Robertson stated at that time that she "hoped" taxes wouldn't have to be raised for 3-4 years. Now, 3 months later, she is quoted as saying they need something to "pull out of our hat" for new revenues and proposed a $10 wheel tax. In the recent election, just 3 months ago, the concern about the town's shrinking population was raised and ignored by the incumbents. Even though the US Census Bureau has consistently predicted that Signal Mountain's population has shrunk over the last 10 years, the council denied it based on their scientific opinion that, as Annette Allen is quoted "It's my experience that the intersections are busier". Susan Robertson is quoted as saying "I can't wrap my head around it". However, facts are difficult things and can't be ignored and it is the job of the Town Council to wrap their heads around them. shows the data:

Signal Mountain town population
2009: 7,253
2008: 7,179
2007: 7,180
2006: 7,255
2005: 7,264
2004: 7,282
2003: 7,338
2002: 7,390
2001: 7,408
2000: 7,440 (July 1 estimate)
2000: 7,429 (April 1 census number)

The annexation settlement won't go into effect until the end of 2012 with new revenues not appearing until late 2013. In spite of rhetoric to the contrary, the annexation is not a large net revenue increase for the town. One concern I have had is the massive extra payments we are making on the high school bond debt. We were originally indebted for approximately $7.7 million to Hamilton County by the referendum. After subtracting moneys previously set aside, the amount to be borrowed was approximately $7.236 million including costs of the loan. Since 2008, when the first payments were due, we have paid this down to approximately $3.9 million after applying the $317,000 which I recently discovered had been overlooked even though the Council voted to apply it to the loan in 2007.
What does this mean? In 2009 we payed an additional $900,000 on the school bond. In 2010, we paid an additional $375, 000 (not counting the $317,000 mentioned above). This amounts to an extra
$.06-$.11 of sales tax. While it is always good to pay down debt, very few of us would starve our children or even put off college to pay off our mortgages early. At present (at least last time I checked which was last fall) the interest rate on this debt was less than 1%! I have long advocated that, if the town needs more revenue (please note the word "if"),  we should adjust the repayment schedule on the school bond. The original plan was to pay it off over 20 years. At present projections, we could have it paid off as early as 10 years (approximately 2018). I would urge the council to consider this option before considering a "wheel tax" or increasing the overall property tax rate, especially when we are still a long ways from full recovery from the recent "Great Recession" and are apparently losing population. High taxes are not attractive to new residents. I am all for paying off debt as quickly as possible, but not at the expense of our town's infrastructure and services.
I should note that my figures may be inexact. They are based on conversations with our finance director last fall just before I went off the council. The interest rate varies on a continual basis. It should also be clear that, if the council shifts this money to general revenues (it would require lowering the $.29 "school tax" and raising the general tax), that tax increase would still be in place when the school tax is retired in a few years. However, it is unrealistic that we would go another long period of time without a property tax increase. Ms. Robertson herself stated during the election that, when the school tax goes away we "could have a moderate" property tax increase (defined as less than 19%). This way, the immediate impact on taxpayers would be no change in taxes for at least 8-10 years and then taxes would still go down when the bond is paid off.
I would invite comment on this issue.