"If I were a betting man, I'd be calculating the odds on when the state takes over New Castle's government."

That's how I began a column on Dec. 19 of last year. The column dealt with a consultant's preliminary report into the financial condition of the city and what to do about it.

My concern at the time was that city officials would basically do nothing, and opt for making excuses rather than taking action.

That's still my concern.

The report from Resource Development --amp; Management is now complete. Among other things, it recommends the city enter Pennsylvania's Act 47 program for financially distressed communities, and change the structure of government to establish the position of a professional manager to supervise most operations.

The report has lots of bad news for New Castle. But two basic points stand out. First, the city is digging itself deeper into a financial hole and faces bankruptcy unless officials do something.

Second, the consultant concluded city officials aren't likely to do something -- or anything -- to address its deficit.

When it comes to making tough and necessary decisions, New Castle government routinely finds itself in a catatonic state, unable to move or act. Officials prefer to take the easy way out, which helps to explain why the city's in the situation outlined in the consultant's report.

The consultant's report documents how city spending hikes significantly outstrip revenue increases -- 5.5 percent versus 0.3 percent from 2000 through 2004. It calculates this deficit spending will continue unless there are decisive reforms.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, council's meeting will focus on the details of this report. Citizens will have the opportunity to provide input and offer advice. The session will take place at the dance pavilion at Cascade Park.

But along with giving their opinions, taxpayers must demand to know what council and New Castle Mayor Wayne Alexander intend to do in the aftermath of the consultant's report. Will it be business as usual? Or are officials prepared to respond constructively.

I will be the first to acknowledge Act 47 is no miracle cure for New Castle's fiscal ailments. What the law does, however, is create some degree of planning and fiscal discipline that the city lacks now.

So far, city officials present decidedly mixed responses to the consultant's recommendations. While there have been calls to adopt some proposals, there is no consensus. And lack of consensus can be a good excuse for lack of action.

The easiest thing in the world to do is nitpick the consultant's report. Pointing to potential flaws or shortcomings in the plan diverts attention from the larger question:

What are council and the mayor prepared to do as an alternative?

Council President Robert Ratkovich recently suggested better communications among city officials can address the problem. If so, he needs to tell us how, specifically, clearer communications will eliminate the city's deficit.

But it's not just Ratkovich. All other members of council and Mayor Wayne Alexander have a responsibility to explain how they plan to stabilize the city's finances. If they can't do that -- or won't -- they ought to step aside and let someone else handle the hard work.

This problem won't go away by ignoring it. And delay merely makes things worse. Unless city officials act responsibly, New Castle residents -- and New Castle employees -- will pay a heavy price.

Don't let the politicians off the hook.

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