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Mayor Wolfe, Steve Williams Share Future Visions at Debate
Wolfe’s last four years have brought a cleaner , safer Huntington. He reminded members of the Fairfield West Community about the times when it was dangerous to sit on their front porch. “Four years ago , we talked about protecting citizen’s property and cleaning up the streets,” the Mayor said.
After the city survived a “train wreck” of multiple fiscal and crime related challenges, Wolfe explained that as engineer he has gotten the train moving forward again, pointing to new businesses at Kinetic Park, the renovation of the Ames store, the Old Main Corridor, and the upcoming revitalization of Hal Greer Blvd and Northcott Court.
He pointed to 600 new jobs created based on collection of Huntington user fees, adding, “We continue what we have [started] doing,” which is “providing an atmosphere for entrepreneurs to bring small business jobs to Huntington,” Wolfe said.
He applauded Police Chief Skip Holbrook for raising grant money to add more officers and equipment to the force without an increase in taxes.
Now, some individuals have commented to Wolfe in the Fairfield neighborhood about how they can once again sit on the porch and children can play outside. The change has come from the “team” he has put in place, the “trust” of others in his administration commitments and the “vision” to polish the Jewel City. Just as the recent National Guard demolition of abandoned housing, the Mayor classified past success as through a coalition of people and government agencies “working together” and “not caring who gets the credit.”
He summarized, “Re-elect me if you like the way the train is moving,” cautioning that a crew change will bring about an inevitable pause.
Beyond experiencing a freedom from shots fired, Wolfe referenced a city that is all about “families.” However, the concept goes beyond raising a family, it extends to young residents not finding work in the city after graduating from high school and/or college. They move away, just like many members in Wolfe’s own family.
“We have produced talented young people. We want them to stay here [by] making the community more attractive so business incubators can grow. Sometimes we forget what we have,” the Mayor said, referring to the river, Ritter Park, Marshall University, and an increase in and film/television production.
The Mayor recalled meeting a woman who moved to Huntington, WV from New York. Why? In his words , she wanted a safe, medium sized city with good medical facilities, lots of opportunities in the arts, and low taxes.
Williams, a former Marshall football player , chair of City Council’s finance committee, and a successful banker, does not deny that the city is going forward. He challenges citizens to accept his lightning speed scenario , rather than steady, status quo-like forward thinking.
“Let’s turn a negative into a positive and go from worst to the first,” Williams said, alluding to the Unhealthiest City ranking that propelled Huntington on to national TV as celebrity chef Jamie Oliver worked to teach residents about nutritious cooking and eating.
Describing life in the 50s in a city filled with robust neighborhood schools and neighborhood business, Williams challenged voters to raise the bar for success. “We have aimed too low,” he said. For comparison, he used the city’s population as within about 500 of overtaking Charleston, as the largest city in West Virginia. While that requires a 5% growth rate, he pointed to Lexington and Louisville as having experienced 20% growth. Thus, for Huntington to achieve only 5% means the city slides further behind other similar communities within the United States.
Wolfe called for additional visionaries to step forward to bridge gaps in goals, stating that “we’re succeeding,” but “we need to do better promoting what we have.”
On the other hand, Williams elaborated upon his “exceptional” vision stating, “There are some things only Huntington, West Virginia , can do.” Williams spoke of creating additional Tax Increment Financing (TIF) zones in which taxes from increased property values go back into development. He proposed a zone for the West End/Central City, Hal Greer Blvd, Highlawn (A.C.F. Industries site) and downtown. Increased property taxes and sales taxes are captured and returned to the zones for infrastructure development. They already exist at Kinetic Park and sections of downtown.
In addition to advocating free wi-fi internet service, Williams asked residents to step back and ask three important questions asked by business people: Where are we? What are we doing here? What do we want?
“I expect exceptional [but] what would define that,” he asked? “I expect more out of ourselves. We are competing against the largest and the best [in the United States]. My mission is not just to be mayor, but to transform the city.”
NEXT: CITY CHALLENGES WHERE DO THEY STAND?