LOOKING BACK AT 2013: Sanford's look, leadership get makeover

Jan. 04, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

With new faces joining the Sanford City Council and quality of life improvements approved by city voters, 2013 ushered in a whirlwind of change for the city of Sanford.

Chet Mann, a local mortgage banker with a slew of community and business organization leadership positions under his belt, was officially named the city’s new mayor in November, having beaten out two-term incumbent Cornelia Olive in September’s Democrat primary. City voters approved four bond referendums, totaling $14.5 million, for community-defining projects during the municipal primary, and Sanford was one of 20 cities selected nationwide for a downtown paint makeover.

“I think 2013 was a watershed year for Sanford and Lee County,” said Sanford-Lee County Planning Director Bob Bridwell. “It has as much to do with the changes in attitude and philosophy, as well as the many good things that have happened in the past year.”

For many years, he said, there was a desire for the city and county to move forward, but not a cohesive direction on which people could agree.

“I think in 2013, people started to come to some conclusions on what they wanted the city to be,” Bridwell said. “I think they expressed that in the bond issue and in a variety of other ways.”

The following four bond referendums were approved during the Sept. 10 primary:

* A $6.5 million streetscape bond, which will allow for streetscape improvements to downtown Sanford and Jonesboro.

* A $4 million greenway bond, which will extend the Endor Iron Furnace Greenway from Kiwanis Family Park to Central Carolina Hospital before snaking toward downtown Sanford.

* A $2 million parks and recreational bond, which will create an interactive play area with water elements in a currently unknown area.

* A $2 million sidewalk bond, which will expand and repair sidewalks within city limits.

With the number of quality-of-life improvements the city is going to make in the coming years — planning meetings to implement the bond referendums began shortly after their passage, but the Sanford City Council must make several decisions in the coming months before extensive work can begin — the city is showing its desire to give residents more, Bridwell said.   

“When we say we are going to make substantial increases to the greenway, we say we want people to gain more from this community than just living and working here,” he said. “We want them to enjoy the community, same thing for the sidewalks and parks. The community is made of several facets that people can enjoy.”

There is a sense, Bridwell said, that Mann, along with the new council, will look at the plans that were developed under Olive’s tenure and aggressively pursue them. This was something with which Mann agreed, although he expressed his desire for caution and careful implementation.

“We do certainly want to get started right away, but we want to be real careful in determining what we want to do first,” Mann said. “The potential tax burden has been real, and [the desire to minimize the burden] will be honored by the council.”

Despite the many successes the city had within the last year, there were still challenges, Mann said. The city was able to keep moving forward, he said, even after a loss of $1.4 million in revenue after the Lee County Board of Commissioners voted to change the sales tax distribution method in April.

“The council and staff did a really good job of keeping positive momentum and adapting to that change,” Mann said. “I think a lot of ground was made with the bond referendums, and I think we started to see the economy improve. The revitalization projects started to move forward, and there were a lot of positives.”