By David Meade
Williamston Town Council approved their 2013-14 budget Monday with funding included for a new program that will help the town in revitalization and economic development efforts. The $78,043 in funding for the Main Street SC program provides for first year start up costs including a paid coordinator for the program which is offered through the SC Municipal Association.
Prior to the vote, Greater Williamston Business Association (GWBA) president Chris Trotter spoke to Council about the program and presented a letter of support for it to the town.
“The program will help to grow our town and businesses,” Trotter said. “We have to do something because we are declining so rapidly.”
He said it will be good for residents and businesses and will be a great attraction to grow the downtown.
Trotter said the GWBA is in support of the program to grow business and bring new things to Williamston.
Councilman Rockey Burgess, who was hesitant to support the program at first, said he had gone to Lancaster and Pickens last week to see what those municipalities are doing with the program and now believes it will be good for the town.
“It has potential if run properly,” he said. “If it is managed properly and has good oversight.”
Burgess said he had posted on social media prior to the meeting that he intended to support the program and had received a lot of feedback, much of it critical.
He gave his assurance that his decision to support it was not political, but that he believes it will have benefits for the town.
“I am very confident this program will succeed,” he said.
After the meeting, Burgess told The Journal that when he visited Lancaster and Pickens he had a lot of questions about the program, but after seeing marketing and branding efforts being used in Pickens, he is seeing the possibilities for Williamston.
From a visitor center offering pamphlets about the town and business community, coordinated signage and even a small welcome center to display materials and other information, Burgess said there is a lot of potential.
“People are interested in the unique things a town has to offer,” he said, “and Williamston has a lot to offer and a lot of history.”
Mayor Durham told The Journal after the meeting that he is very excited about moving forward with the revitalization program.
“I couldn’t be more happier or more excited about realizing the potential that we all know Williamston holds.”
The Mayor said the next step will be to gather a list of potential candidates for the coordinator position.
He said the SC Municipal Assocation will help with the screening and interview process and may already have a list of potential candidates.
“My greatest hope is that we involve our entire community through participation by Pelzer and West Pelzer,” he said.
Durham has approached Councils of both towns about participating in the Main St. SC program along with Williamston.
If the two neighboring towns do decide to participate, the joint effort will be a first for the program.
State Municipal program director Beppie LeGrand said the proximity of the three towns is ideal for joint participation in the program.
During a recent presentation to the GWBA, LeGrand said that the proximity of Pelzer and West Pelzer can be promoted as a region rather than as three separate entities. “The connectivity is so real,” she said. “You should promote the greater Williamston area, the family of the region.”
Mayor Durham has proposed Pelzer and West Pelzer join in the program and share in the expenses, allowing the two towns to have representatives on a board that will help oversee the program including the interview process for a coordinator.
The coordinator will be a full time, 40 hour per week position with a salary comparable to other economic development professionals in the area, estimated at $35,000 to $45,000.
The Main St. program requires a three year committment. The cost to participate is $10,000 for the first year, $7,500 for the second year and $7,500 for the third year. Once performance standards are met, the ongoing yearly cost is $5,000.
In developing and implementing a vision for the town, or the area if Pelzer and West Pelzer participate, the program will focus on four areas including organization, promotion, design, and economic development.
Durham said Williamston is open to Pelzer and West Pelzer participating in the program.
“We would love to have them be a part of this,” he said.
He also said he appreciates the support shown by the GWBA for the program. “We have some great opportunities for public/private partnerships,” the mayor said.
Durham said he is looking into possible facade grants available though the Appalachian Council of Governments that could be used to help existing businesses improve their store fronts.
The budget passed on second reading with a 3-2 vote after Mayor Mack Durham made a motion to pass it including $78,043 for the revitalization program.
Mayor Durham, Councilman Tony Hagood and Councilman Rockey Burges were in favor. Councilmen David Harvell and Otis Scott were opposed.
On Tuesday, Councilman Harvell said he voted against the Main St. program because people he had spoken with about it were against hiring somone else to oversee the program.
“I was elected to watch out for every citizen and see that our tax dollars will be spent in the best interest of the town,” Harvell said.