Fuel costs fire up mayor's ideas

In a speech, Raleigh's mayor outlines goals for energy sources, housing and education

Staff WriterFebruary 28, 2006 

Meeker

Mayor Charles Meeker challenged the city Monday to buy more hybrid cars and burn more vegetable-based fuel, cutting fuel consumption by 20 percent in the next five years.

Right now, Meeker said, the city's trash trucks use 20 percent vegetable fuel. Why not, he asked, shoot for 40 or 60 percent?

"The cost of fuel is going up," he said. "It really is our obligation, our challenge, to do a better job."

In his annual State of the City address, Meeker laid out two other goals for 2006: fight homelessness and push Wake County to solve its school-crowding crisis.

Meeker noted that Raleigh voters backed a $20 million bond for affordable housing last fall. About $3 million of that money could go to help people coming out of shelters and other temporary housing.

"Someone leaving a prison or a mental health facility ought to have a plan," he said, "rather than heading out on the street with a few dollars in their hands."

Meeker said he realizes Raleigh government has no control over schools, but he felt the need to urge action.

It will take roughly $1.2 billion to renovate schools, move students out of trailers and handle the 12,000 new students estimated for the next two years.

Wake County's tax base will increase enough that $400,000 to $500,000 can be committed now without a tax increase.

The rest of the money, Meeker said, should be left to voters to decide on this fall's ballot.

"We're behind," he said. "We've been behind now for a couple of years. ... I have confidence this community, as it always has done before, can solve our problem."

Before an audience of about 75 people at the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Meeker said 2005 brought good news from beginning to end.

It started with passage of the city's tree ordinance, which limits clear-cutting, and ended with RBC Centura Bank choosing downtown Raleigh for its headquarters.

"There's more going on downtown than in the last three or four decades," he said. "It's really remarkable."

Staff writer Josh Shaffer can be reached at 829-4818 or josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com.

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