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Bell delivers State of the City address

Mayor Bill Bell spoke to the state of the city Monday night.
Mayor Bill Bell spoke to the state of the city Monday night.

In his sixth term as mayor of the Bull City, Bill Bell aims to make Durham more safe and habitable for all citizens, he said at City Hall Plaza Monday night.

In the 10th annual State of the City address, Bell emphasized the importance of the continued revitalization of housing, law enforcement and jobs sectors in Durham. He said development in these areas will allow for the creation and sustainability of even more thriving and livable neighborhoods in Durham.

“Our goal must be to make sure all neighborhoods [in Durham] are attractive, livable and crime free,” Bell said. “We need to encourage and support developments that will bring quality, affordable housing to families at all income levels.”

Bell spoke to approximately 60 Durham City Council members, local officials and other Durham residents, first highlighting the strides the city made in infrastructure and transportation last year. Looking forward to the rest of 2012, Bell said he will pay special attention to four areas: violent crime, neighborhood revitalization, affordable housing and sustainable job development.

To accomplish this, Bell noted that he will tackle the issue of violent crime to promote safety for the residents of Durham. He added that the bail bond minimum should be raised to $300,000 for people who illegally discharge firearms—four times the current bail bond maximum for this crime.

“If we are serious about reducing gun violence in our city, we have got to send a different message,” he said. “They are not to punish, but to ensure that, if a person is freed, there will be some assurance that they will appear at the appropriate time in court to face their charge.”

In addition to reducing violent crimes, Bell said he wants to revitalize struggling neighborhoods by constructing affordable housing and expanding the sustainable job market. He used the current effort to rejuvenate the Southside neighborhood of the Hayti district, an area across from downtown Durham that is ridden with crime and poverty, as a model for how Durham will work to create thriving neighborhoods.

In support of the Southside project, Bell added that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that it will approve an $8.8 million loan guarantee to the city.

Mayor Pro Tempore Cora Cole-McFadden said in an interview with The Chronicle following Bell’s address that improvement of Southside will greatly benefit Durham due to its central location.

“That area has been devastated for years and years,” she said. “It’s a gateway into downtown and into North Carolina Central University, so we’ve got to focus our attention there. In the next three to five years, you’re going to see a complete transformation of that area.”

Bell also emphasized higher education and job training as critical components to eradicating poverty and revitalizing struggling neighborhoods. The mayor noted that in 2011, in partnership with the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and Durham County Government, the city government assisted more than 70 companies that announced 4,400 additional jobs. Although Durham’s unemployment rate has recently increased from 7.4 to 7.5 percent, Bell said he is still encouraged that Durham is under the national level of 8.3 percent.

Education will help to lift neighborhoods and their peoples out of poverty, said NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms in an interview.

“Education is the centerpiece of that issue because we know that there is a direct, strong correlation between employment and education,” Nelms said. “We need to make sure we address educational issues in order to create the kinds of jobs that will employ our people in the long run.”

Bell concluded his address by asserting that the Bull City will stick to “conservative fiscal management” in order to thrive as the nation’s economy continues to slowly recover. He noted that in 2011, Durham’s budget gap stands at $3 million—the smallest recorded budget gap in recent years.

“We have prioritized, partnered with other organizations and carefully planned to help us reach our goals of running the city as cost-efficiently as possible,” he said.

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