01/03/08 — Huffman: City plate of projects full for '08

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Huffman: City plate of projects full for '08

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 3, 2008 2:08 PM

Had you asked Joe Huffman in September 2006 just how he intended to pull off construction of a new Paramount Theater and community building, he might not have been able to answer.

Goldsboro's city manager said there was "just a bit of uncertainty there."

After all, City Council members had already charged the city's management team with restoring the original City Hall.

And then there was the neighborhood meeting schedule to pull off and a budget to put together.

It was a recipe a few ingredients short of disaster.

But then came a massive fundraising effort for the Paramount Theater spearheaded by local businessman and philanthropist David Weil.

And city employees started "stepping up," Huffman said, committed to making the Wayne County seat a better place to live.

2007 had a chance to be overwhelming, he added.

But instead, Huffman said he will look back on it as a "strong year," one that brought out the best in his team -- and town.

"The question in my mind was, 'How are we going to pull this off? How are we going to get it done?'" he said. "There was a bit of uncertainty there.

"But then, people started becoming optimistic -- the citizens, the employees, the council," he said. "And that optimism is based a lot on the things around us."

Maybe it was breaking in the new City Hall building or watching the dream of a reborn Paramount come to fruition that rallied the community behind city efforts, Huffman said.

"Folks are really becoming supportive of what the city is doing," he said.

"And it's not just the Paramount or City Hall. You see other improvement downtown. Look at John Street. Things are really starting to happen."

And over the course of the year, the foundation was laid for the city's future, too.

The Department of Transportation committed to restoration of Union Station -- a multi-million dollar project that officials expect to be complete with a few years.

Plans for a new community building are currently being drawn, too, and officials still hope to see something happen at Stoney Creek Park soon.

Huffman said he is confident that his team can make the numbers work to ensure these projects happen without reducing the quality of service the city provides to its residents.

"As far as the money for the projects, now, the picture is becoming more clear," he said.

In fact, the General Fund is nearly $1 million higher than it was last year at this time and the Utility Fund has increased by more than $2 million.

Growth -- the type that might help pay for projects and other amenities -- is happening, he said.

"Rough data" from the Finance Department backs up his claim.

More than $18 million in investments were realized through residential permits and the valuation of commercial permits exceeded $62 million.

"It really has been a strong year," Huffman said.

But the city manager admits that there have been a share of trying moments, as well.

Shootings, like the one at McIntyre Funeral Home in April, made headlines.

But the city's police officers, a group of "the employees" Huffman credits with the "success" that he says was 2007, fought through the adversity.

"We've had some bad things happen, but our police department has become very aggressive," he said. "You're seeing a lot of arrests being made."

And drought concerns still have not waned.

City officials have done "a pretty good job" handling the situation for the short term, Huffman said, but more discussion and action might be needed this year.

"We're really going to need to have some serious discussions about a longterm solution to this water issue," he said. "I don't know if that means a resevoir or what but we need something. It's a scary situation."

So while 2007 brought with it several highs -- and the promise of completion of the Paramount and City Hall in early-2008 -- there is still work to do.

"We have a lot more to accomplish," Huffman said. "But this past year, it set the bar high."