Editorial: City's next step: Develop infrastructure plan
It's difficult to get anywhere if you don't know where you want to go.
Huntington city officials were talking Saturday about ways to overcome such inertia after they toured various city facilities and problem areas that appear to need attention. The obstacle facing them, however, is that the deficiencies they were shown will take millions of dollars to address -- money that the city doesn't currently have at its disposal.
But as Mayor Steve Williams and various City Council members have pointed out on several occasions in recent months, the first step is to identify the needs, figure out what it will take to meet them, and develop a strategy to get the work done. It appears that the mayor and council are prepared to start doing that.
Williams, several council members and various other city officials spent several hours Saturday inspecting fire stations, the public safety building, the motor pool garage, and a few areas beset with road slide and drainage issues. Altogether, it was estimated that $15.5 million would bew needed to address deterioration at facilities, deal with space constraints at some, fix drainage issues, eliminate problems with mold in some building and otherwise bring infrastructure up to snuff.
"We have serious issues that need immediate attention," City Council chairman Mark Bates said when the tour was completed. "I have a concern that we have some buildings ... that if our code officer went in, we'd be writing ourselves tickets."
That's a good point. And so was this one by Williams: "We have two choices. We can do nothing and slide back or we can take action."
Obviously, taking action is the preferred option. However, the mayor also posed the most difficult question: " ... how do we pay for it?"
That's the sticking point, and there was talk of possibly raising fees or taxes. One idea floated Saturday was the possibility of asking voters to approve a five-year levy with the proceeds going strictly to capital improvements.
That may well be worth pursuing as about the only way to address the problems in the near future. But, as some council members pointed out, a detailed plan will be needed so that members of the public will know what they are being asked to finance with their tax money.
That's the place for officials to start: coming up with a detailed, concrete capital-improvement plan for the next several years.
Even then, selling Huntington residents on higher fees or taxes or a limited extra tax levy won't be easy. Fee increases in recent years have been met with resistance, even though the latest increase in the user fee a few years ago has been channeled to a consistent street paving program and public safety needs -- both welcome improvements. Most recently, Williams' proposal for a storm water fee to pay for work aimed at alleviating street flooding drew a harsh reaction from many people.
But the notion that nothing should be done isn't acceptable either. That's why it's important for the mayor and council to chart a detailed course for making infrastructure improvements, then make their case to the public in hopes that progress can be made.
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