Although most of Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie's annual State of the City speech was devoted to saying nice things about community and business leaders, a distinct note of caution could be heard in it.
McKenzie cited budget challenges, including loss of state and federal funding and increased costs for employee health care and pensions. Then came a welcome reference to priorities: "The taxpayer just can't continue to bear the cost ... we must continue to do more with less," the mayor emphasized.
One of McKenzie's most important promises when he sought the mayor's post was to "right-size" city government. During his speech Tuesday, he reiterated a commitment to that.
Noting the city workforce has been reduced by 8 percent - through attrition - during the past few years, McKenzie added more ways to cut employment must be found. In a revealing sentence, he said that means "reviewing efficiencies of services or even departments."
Two key events during the past year fall into those categories. First, as McKenzie noted, voters agreed to eliminate the city's outdated rule requiring two police officers in most on-duty cruisers. That allowed police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger to put more cars out on the street - making better use of the force.
Second, City Council's decision to slash funding for the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, handing off responsibility to a state agency, has saved about $52,000 this year in federal grant money that can be used for other purposes.
McKenzie and council have no choice but to find ways to do more with less. Costs are increasing in ways beyond their control. For example, in part because of Obamacare, the city's health care bill will go from the current $3.3 million a year to $3.4 million next year.
Many of those listening to the mayor's speech probably wanted to learn more about initiatives such as the 1100 block of Main and Market streets and the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park. It certainly would have been nice to hear more on topics such as those.
More detailed proposals for holding down costs would have been nice to hear, too.
But emphasis on holding down the cost of government - on "right-sizing" - is an appropriate reaction to fiscal challenges facing the city. McKenzie is right: "We must tighten our belts to be conscientious stewards of our tax dollars."