By David Meade
During a recent budget work session, Williamston Mayor Mack Durham laid out his vision for the town and areas he wants addressed in the upcoming budget. Durham’s agenda focuses on community growth through a strong leadership team provided by council.
Speaking to the town’s councilmembers and department heads, Durham said that creating residential growth is the end game in his vision for the town.
“If we are not growing, costs will go up,” he said. Durham said the town has been in the black every year since he has been mayor, but it is getting close to not being in the black.
Pointing out that municipalities are being required by county and state officials to be responsible for more services, while their residents are paying the same taxes as people outside the town, yet not receiving the same services, creating a “double taxation” situation.
The mayor said that politics plays a big role in funding for public safety and in supporting the road system.
The towns have increasing responsibility without an increase in revenue, he said. “County and State taxes go up, we get less.”
Durham pointed out that people residing just outside of town pay less taxes, yet people in town, paying the same county taxes, get very little from the county. “Towns subsidize county growth,” he said.
“We want to get a fair return from the county and state on our taxes,” the mayor said. “If equal services are available in the county, they should be available for us as well.”
Durham said he wants the town to be a “community champion” and hopes to see increases in county and state services or a decrease in taxes.
He said that the way to get the town to grow is to make it a “destination community” through “quality of life enhancement.”
The mayor touched on several programs the town supports including providing recreation opportunities, events and economic development that enhance quality of life.
He said the town’s recreation program has grown from serving around 60 to more than 800 kids. “B.J. (Tompkins) has done a phenomenal job,” Durham said.
Durham said the Envision Williamston program is working on economic development through business recruitment and improvement incentives and other community beautification and improvement projects.
Projects and improvements are also being guided by implementation of the Town’s Community Master Plan, which was developed under Durham’s leadership.
Durham said he wants the town to focus on community engagement through placemaking, instilling community pride and following the Comprehensive Master Plan.
The goal is “roof tops” he said, which reflects growth.
He said he wants to the town to focus on business growth with incentives.
The combination of visitors and visitors becoming residents, creates a viable market for services growth and community growth, Durham said.
Durham said he wants Williamston to become “a destination, first for our citizens, then for the larger community area.”
The mayor then addressed areas he wants addressed in the upcoming budget.
Among them are a restructuring of the water/sewer rates and a water meter replacement program. He also wants to begin a program of responsible maintenance and begin replacement of the town’s aging water lines, some of which are 80 years old, he said.
He said he would also like to restructure the town’s trash collection system, purchasing a new packer and bins for residents.
In addition to safety, the mayor said he wants to “upgrade service to our citizens too.”
He urged council to take a proactive stance in addressing the items.
The mayor also said he wants to provide funding for improvements for the town area and park, including electrical, irrigation, erosion control and better handicap access.
He stated that the old park bathroom needs addressing, possibly doing away with it. He also suggested providing shade and seating along the wall area of the park.
Durham said he would like to improve facilities at the ballfield and create a downtown entertainment venue at city hall.
Durham said the two categories he wants to focus on are operations and maintenance and development and growth.
“My number one goal is generating more rooftops,” the mayor said. He said finding a downtown restaurant anchor, a grocery store and generating residential growth “are on my mind constantly.”
Two more work sessions are planned prior to second and final reading on the budget, which will be held at the next regular meeting of Council at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, June 5.
A public hearing will also be held prior to the Council meeting June 5.
Photo – The Town of Williamston recently placed a new truck into service in the Street
Department and recently approved the purchase of a new tractor. Upgrading equipment is a priority for the town in the upcoming budget year along with improving recreation, park and town facilities. Pictured are: (L-R) Jerry McNeill of Carolina International Trucks; Mike Forrester of Carolina International Trucks; Williamston Mayor Mack Durham; Councilman David Harvell; Utilities Director David Rogers; Street Department employees Steve Smith, Greg Paige and Shane Phillips.