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Bell gives annual speech

Great things are happening in Durham, it's just hard to tell.

Mayor Bill Bell opened his annual State of the City address Tuesday night at the City Hall with this positive declaration, but quickly proceeded to focus on the major problems the city is facing, such as crime rates and drought conditions.

"It would have been nice for me to come up here and talk about all the good things that are happening in Durham and ignore the challenges that we are having," he said. "That's not Durham and that's not me."

After a weekend during which Duke students were the victims of two armed robberies and an off-campus homicide, Bell proposed cracking down on gun use as a solution to the increasing crime rate.

He acknowledged that two homicides and a spike of robberies have occurred in the city over the past two weeks.

"So much violence with the use of guns in our community has got to be stopped," the mayor said. "We need to find a way to get them off the streets."

Recent robberies have targeted members of the Hispanic community, Bell said, noting that the city faced a similar problem during his early years as mayor.

"For some reason or another it has risen its ugly head again and we have got to cut it off," he added.

The four-term mayor encouraged community involvement in the fight against crime and asked the Durham Police Department to submit a plan to City Council for reducing violent crimes by the council's third work session in March.

Bell noted that Durham's total crime index has decreased since last year, but murders have increased from 14 killings in 2006 to 26 in 2007. He said the city would continue its commitment to stopping crime.

"We could spend all night talking about that subject, but I think we all know what it involves," he said. "It involves schooling..., our lack of jobs... and it involves poverty."

The city's water shortage was another major focus of the speech. Bell noted that the 2007 drought would forever change the way Durham views water as a resource.

"One of the phrases that has become part of everyday conversation in Durham and throughout the state of North Carolina is 'days of supply'," he said.

Bell added that at its worst point, the city had only 36 days of water supply remaining, and there are currently 133 days of water left.

"It is almost impossible to speak about the drought without speaking about climate change, which has contributed to our changing rain patterns," he said.

The mayor said city and county facilities would do their part to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, adding that higher prices are needed to encourage water conservation.

"It is imperative that during this time of drought the heaviest users not only be convinced to use less, but to also pay for their higher usage," he said.

Bell's address also focused on the revitalization of Durham's inner-city neighborhoods. He credited the work of Duke students and other groups with helping to restore the southwest central Durham neighborhoods.

After the speech, council members praised Bell for clearly outlining the challenges facing Durham.

"The mayor has given us something to sink our teeth into," said council member Howard Clement.


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