Editorial: Williams lays out promising path for Huntington
In his inaugural address Thursday night, Mayor Steve Williams painted an inspiring and ambitious vision of what Huntington can become.
The city has many assets from Marshall University and Ritter Park to a growing medical community and a resilient community spirit forged by difficult times and tragedy. Although Huntington faces many challenges with housing and infrastructure, it can become a place where business and people want to be, Williams told a packed crowd at the historic Keith-Albee Theater.
The city just needs to build on its strengths and set its sights high -- high enough to compete for development with larger cities such as Lexington, Cincinnati and Columbus.
"We can come across as a genuine article, a proud city of Huntington that offers what none of these communities can hope to offer," Williams said.
But the city will have to work harder and smarter than it has in the past, and that means tightening its belt and making the most of the resources available.
The new mayor's vision was not accompanied by a call for new taxes but with a hiring freeze and plans for a 2 percent budget reduction. Williams said those plans are not in response to any immediate financial crisis, but to hopefully avoid those hiccups that have been so distracting to city government in the past.
The city will need more revenue, but Williams hopes to build that through growth and economic development. That is a refreshing approach, and in the end, the only reasonable path. The city has faced declining population and business flight for a half century, and there are limits to the burden that can be placed on the remaining tax base.
So, looking for innovation and efficiencies is critical. While that requires new ideas and hard work, it certainly can be done.
In fact, the Huntington Police Department provides an excellent example of moving forward with limited resources. Under Chief Skip Holbrook, the department has introduced new crime-fighting techniques, built valuable partnerships and improved community relationships. The city's crime rate that soared in 2004-2008 is now at its lowest level in 27 years and compares very favorably with other communities our size. HPD has been recognized as the region's top law enforcement agency two years in a row.
Williams announced this week he has reopened talks with city unions in hopes of reaching new agreements and getting everyone working together to improve services. The new mayor also made it clear Thursday night that he is busy building partnerships with other leaders on local and state levels as well as other cities throughout the region.
There is a lot of work to do, but these are all steps that move Huntington in the right direction.