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Editorial: Assessing needs crucial for setting city priorities

Feb. 03, 2013 @ 11:20 PM

A new year. A new mayor. Several new City Council members.

Sounds like a good time to take stock of what needs to be done. And that is what several new leaders in Huntington City Hall have been doing recently.

The latest example occurred last week, when three new City Council members as well as the city finance director toured Huntington's six fire stations to get an up-close look at their condition. Councilman Dave Ball, who is chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, organized the tour, which was guided by Fire Chief Randy Ellis.

Ball said he was prompted to have the tour because of a desire expressed by Steve Williams, who took office as mayor last month, for the city to fashion a long-term capital improvement plan. Ball also plans to conduct a similar tour soon of the Huntington Police Department and municipal court, with the same goal in mind.

Williams, for his part, has essentially been gauging the city's needs since he was elected mayor in November. Shortly after the election, he formed transition teams to gather and recommend strategies for city government to move forward and better serve the public on a number of fronts. The teams, which conducted numerous meetings, put forward many good ideas regarding the city's finances, public safety, economic development and public works.

Following Ball's lead with the public safety agencies, it would be beneficial for all council members to get a first-hand look at the city's facilities so that they better understand the challenges and the opportunities related to their governing.

The tour of the fire stations proved to be eye opening for the council members. A consultant's review of the fire department in 2011, culminating in an extensive report released about a year ago, noted that several of the fire stations need work. It recommended that the oldest, the 87-year-old Westmoreland station, be replaced, and suggested the same fate or major repair work for Centennial Station No. 1 in the 800 block of 7th Avenue. Last week's visitors could see why.

The consultant report also pointed to several operational problems in the fire department that had nothing to do with the buildings, and we trust that department officials have made strides on those. An accounting of any progress on those fronts is probably due at this point.

But the operational issues aren't likely to cost nearly as much as possible building needs, and that's where the assessment process undertaken by Ball and the others is so important. Before city government can lay out a strategy for an orderly process to tackle infrastructure needs, leaders must have a full knowledge and understanding of them. With that in hand, priorities can be set and ways to meet the infrastructure needs can be explored.

Just where the city's fire stations -- particularly those in the worst condition -- would fit into the priority list at this point is unknown. The city has many challenges, among them costly sewer repairs, street improvements, too much dilapidated housing and floodwall maintenance. And there are bound to be emergencies arise.

But a thorough process of taking stock is the first place to begin for laying a foundation for improvements in the future. Credit should go to the city's new leaders for taking that approach.

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