LAURINBURG — As a kid who grew up when Laurinburg was flush with jobs and a robust economy, Drew Williamson knows what a prosperous city looks like.
The Laurinburg native said his hometown has taken some economic hits in the intervening years, but adds that the city is far from “dying” as some critics have suggested.
Williamson said he has spent much of his time on the Laurinburg City Council trying to help the city grow. If re-elected to a second term representing District 2, Williams said he will continue to work with council to take a proactive approach to making Laurinburg attractive to new industry and businesses.
Still Williamson is facing three challengers — Frank Evans, Brian Gainey and George Medlock — that all claim in one way or another that the incumbent has not done enough to improve the city’s economic fortunes.
It is an assertion that Williamson disputes.
He points to efforts to revitalize downtown Laurinburg, including the possibility of the business district being designated a Main Street City. Work to create an industrial park and recent business expansions are also examples of the council’s push for economic development, according to Williamson.
“Our current council has been extremely proactive in taking steps towards making our city more attractive and appealing to our citizens and visitors,” said Williamson, who also serves on the Scotland County Economic Development Commission. “We have taken ownership of the need to revitalize our downtown and are close to being named a Main Street City, which will provide important resources for current and future property owners.”
Even before the Laurinburg attorney was first appointed to council in 2011 and elected in 2013, he worked to rejuvenate downtown by helping organize the Laurinburg Downtown Revitalization Corporation. He also served as the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce vice president for economic development and later as chamber chairman. He is a former president of the Laurinburg Rotary Club, former chair of the Scotia Village Board of Trustees and The Presbyterian Homes, Inc. Board of Trustees.
“While acknowledging that serving on various boards does not immediately qualify anyone to sit on our city council, I would hope that those who know me or who have worked with me will agree that I am sincere in my desire to grow this city in hopes of providing better opportunities for all our citizens, whether they reside in District 1 or District 2,” Williamson said.
The councilman said he disagrees with those that say “Laurinburg is dying” and claim that council needs to cut taxes and utility rates without careful consideration of what such cuts could mean to the city.
“My hope is that we will be able to further reduce our electric rate as we continue to review the financial health of our electric fund and further determine our department needs,” he said. “I will always seek guidance from our engineering experts, however, as opposed to simply voting for a rate change without well-founded reasons to do so.”
Williamson said he would like to see the city’s tax rate lowered, but only if it can be done without negatively impacting services.
He said the real key is to a lowered tax rate is an improved economy.
“Successfully recruiting new business and investment into the city would allow us to generate more property tax revenue, increased sales tax revenue and, hopefully, attract newcomers to the city, which would likely make it easier for both the City and County to reduce our respective tax rates.”
He added that at .40 cents per $100 valuation, Laurinburg has the second lowest rate in the area behind Pinehurst, “an especially affluent resort community.”
“We as a council need to do all we can to help bring new jobs and financial investment into the area,” he said. “I can understand how frustrated so many of our citizens are after having lost manufacturing jobs and realize that many of those who have returned to employment after losing those jobs are now making less than before.”
In urging investment in the city, Williamson said the city is showing a willingness to invest in itself by constructing the new City Hall and police station.
“We encourage our business and industry to expand and invest, and I believe that it is time for the city to do the same,” he said. “Council has just completed a long, arduous process of confirming that the new building will be completed without the need to raise property taxes.”
Williamson said the current facility is inadequate to house a modern police department, and it inaccessible to the disabled. Remodeling the current building would be cost prohibitive, he added.
“We have been told by two separate architectural firms that the cost of renovating the current municipal building could actually exceed the cost of new construction, with the result being a ‘remodeled’ building which would still not fully meet the future needs of the city.”
Williamson said he and city officials would welcome any suggestions on improving Laurinburg.
“We need to do all we can to sell our unique assets, such as having St. Andrews in our city and UNCP not far away, having future I-74 running through Laurinburg, and having the Laurinburg-Maxton Airbase with its potential industrial sites, along with our prominent Scottish and African-American heritage,” he said. “We do have a lot to offer and I would hope that we can come together as a community to tell our story.”
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023