LAURINBURG — J.D. Willis can speak at great length about municipal government and given half a chance — does.
The District 1 incumbent is a policy wonk through and through, talking about infrastructure grants or fuel adjustment costs with the same gusto some people discuss sports.
During a recent candidate forum, a supporter caused a bit of a kerfuffle when it appeared that he was trying to tell Willis what to say. The man, fellow council member Curtis Leak, had actually hoped to stop Willis from talking too much.
Willis said his habit of “getting into the weeds” is rooted in his desire to help people.
“Public service is all that I have been doing ever since I’ve been in Laurinburg and Scotland County,” Willis said. “I always believe you should leave the city or county in a better position than when you arrive.
Willis would like another chance to improve Laurinburg and is seeking a second term as the District 1 representative against challenger Mary Evans.
According to Willis, a former manufacturing manager at Abbott Laboratories, a city should run with the same efficiency of a business. Willis said he has tried to instill some of those principals to city governance during his time on the council.
He thinks he has succeeded. During his tenure, council has been able to lower residential utility bills by 7 percent in 2015 and by 4.3 percent in 2017 for a total of 11.3 percent, Willis said.
He argues that the city has also eliminated the fuel adjustment charge on monthly utility bills which lowered costs by an average of $20 to $40 a month. The number of audits finding deficiencies has decreased and property tax collections have increased, according to the councilman.
“We had to tighten our belts,” Willis said. “That is why we have virtually paid off all of our debt.”
On the city’s tax rate, Willis said the current tax rate of .40 per $100 valuation is one of the lowest in the region, and he believes some residents confuse it with Scotland County’s $1.01 tax rate.
“If re-elected… I promise we will continue to lower our light bills, and water and sewer bills. The city is in a position to do that and maintain our current status.”
According to Willis, the two biggest problems are flooding and crime. He said council is already taking steps to address both.
The city has an engineering firm studying the drainage problems.
In terms of fighting crime, Willis said he helped facilitate the concept of community policing and worked to ensure diversity at the police department by supporting the addition of eight new officers — six blacks and two female officers.
“Some would say the city isn’t doing anything on crime, but the city is aggressively pursing ways to curb our crime rate,” he said. “The tsunami cameras have been a real assist to us. They have already helped our police officers solve certain problem.”
Before his appointment and subsequent election to council, Willis served for 22 years on the county commission, with 12 as chairman.
He also served as director of the Laurinburg Jaycees and served on the boards of directors for the Scotland County Literacy Council and the United Way. He is a member of St. Mary AME Zion in Laurel Hill, where he serves as the church’s trustee and financial clerk.
“I plan to work with the city, county and hospital, in re-purposing the I.E. Johnson school property to put in an indoor swimming pool, refurbish the school’s gym, and to have tutorial and senior programs,” Willis said. “That is something that will serve District 1 very well.
“I am aware of the things that are needed in the city and in District 1 in particular by listening to the people that live in the district,” Willis said.
Not everyone thinks Willis and the rest of council listened when it came to the $9.1 million City Hall-police station. Willis concedes that council should have done a better job explaining the project.
But he stands by his decision given the state of the current facility and the cost to refurbish it.Willis added that Laurinburg is in the best position financially to build the multi-purposed facility with historically low-interest rates and the city’s lack of debt.
“Not all things can be accomplished that all citizens want in District 1, but we can find out and figure out what can be accomplished and what cannot,” Willis said. “Anytime you serve on a city board, county board, or state board — you are not always going to agree, but one thing is for sure — J.D. Willis cannot get anything done on his own.”
Evans declined to participate in a candidate profile.
Reach Scott Witten at 910-506-3023