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Editorial: Williams gets to work on plan for Huntington

Nov. 10, 2012 @ 11:37 PM

Huntington voters chose a new mayor last week to lead a city with great challenges and great opportunities.

City Councilman Steve Williams, who won 60 percent of the vote to defeat incumbent Kim Wolfe, will take office in January. Over the coming weeks, he plans to put together a broad-based transition team, focus closely on the city's finances and lay the groundwork for new economic development efforts.

Those are all important objectives.

In his campaign, Williams often talked about making Huntington an "exceptional city." That might sound like a dreamy idea for a city that has struggled for a half century with population loss and business flight. But Huntington has many strengths -- a growing university, a re-emerging downtown, and a strong medical community, just to name a few. Also, a host of community groups are at work to improve the area's quality of life and strengthen neighborhoods with health, recreation, economic development and arts initiatives.

Williams is right to form a transition team that taps into all of that energy, from business and labor organizations to neighborhood and civic groups.

But it is also critical to come up with a reasonable and accurate financial plan for the budget the new mayor will present in February.

Over the past decade, this is where previous administrations have always stumbled. The city's tax revenue streams are sensitive to the economy, and overestimating income and underestimating expenses has resulted in many budget "surprises" in the past.

Moreover, the city of Huntington begins its budget process with a big challenge -- it takes about 25 percent of the city's revenues to support the police and firefighter pension funds. That means any hiccup in that process can have dramatic consequences.

Williams said this week he plans to use resources at Marshall and the state to help develop the best projections possible and plan accordingly. Williams' experience as a businessman, legislator and city manager should help in this area.

The mayor-elect also has a longer-term plan to focus on three business develop zones -- downtown, the Hal Greer Boulevard corridor and the Central City area -- that all have potential to attract new business. Success with business development is the real antidote to the city's financial challenges.

Developing a communitywide vision, a sound financial plan and a roadmap for growth are all good steps for Huntington's future.

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