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Meeker: Raleigh can't slow down in recession

Updating Raleigh's comprehensive plan, expanding public transportation, more efficient use of resources and the future of Dix Hospital are among the city's priorities for 2009, Mayor Charles Meeker said Monday.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker on Monday outlined the city's priorities for the year, including better planning and more efficient use of resources.

Meeker said bold action is needed to move Raleigh forward in the face of a nationwide recession that has cost thousands their jobs and has led to curtailed spending.

"We're in a recession. That's where we are. Let's deal with it," he said to a luncheon crowd at the Raleigh Rotary Club meeting.

Falling tax revenue has forced Raleigh to cut back on capital projects, such as street repair and park maintenance. With the exception of public safety, every department in city government faces a hiring freeze to save about $15 million.

"This is going to be a year when the council gets the budget in May or June where we are choosing which programs to continue, not choosing which programs to add. It's going to be that kind of year, and we need to be realistic about it," Meeker said.

City Manager Russell Allen said he expects cuts to city operations and possible layoffs of city employees in the coming months.

"We'll not be looking at new programs," Allen said, calling the recession the worst economic crisis he's seen in 30 years in public administration. "We'll be looking at where we can cut expenses (and) actually cut positions.

"We try really hard not to lay off employees," he said. "If you can hold openings, you've got more flexibility to cut a position without affecting somebody's job."

Still, Meeker said Raleigh can't afford to wait for the economy to rebound and needs to keep pushing ahead so that the city will be well-positioned to take advantage of the rebound when it occurs. He emphasized his point by referring to President Barack Obama's inaugural address last week.

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America," he said, quoting Obama. "That's great advice for us here in the city of Raleigh, too."

Priorities for the coming year include updating Raleigh's comprehensive plan, which governs how the city will grow in the future, Meeker said. Other top issues include expanding public transportation, better conservation of water and energy – through both reduced consumption and increased efficiency – and continuing efforts to transform part of Dorothea Dix Hospital into a destination park for Raleigh, he said.


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