Growth a priority

Aug. 17, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Every year he’s on the Sanford City Council, J.D. Williams said, he learns more and gets better at his job. And if he’s re-elected he plans to keep that up.“My thing has always been to do anything I can to help people, whether it’s on the board, in church, whatever,” he said. “And that’s not going to change no matter what.”

Williams, who has been on the council since 1995, is the incumbent for the Ward 3 seat and is facing challenger Ervin Fox in the Democratic primary; the winner will take the seat because there’s no Republican challenger. And if he’s re-elected, Williams said, he wants to keep working on the various bond referendum issues — all of which he supports — as well as to work toward more direct economic development strategies.

Listing companies which supposedly considered Sanford but eventually went elsewhere — he said one went to Wilson, where it got land and incentives; another went to Boston, Mass., where it got a free warehouse — Williams said Sanford needs to do a better job of competing with other cities. The improvements contained in the bond items will help quality of life factors, he said, adding that they could even end up requiring small or even no tax hikes.

City officials estimate that if voters approve all the bonds, which total more than $14 million, property tax rates would need to go up by about 5 cents per $100 in value as long as the local tax base doesn’t change in the time the city has to implement the bonds, which could be as much as 10 years. Williams said he believes there will be change.

“My hope is — and there’s no guarantees — but my hope is the tax base could grow enough by then where we wouldn’t need to raise the (property) taxes,” he said.

He’s also worried about the incentive policies in neighboring states and even counties. He said South Carolina cities have recently started offering lucrative incentives. And Harnett County just landed Rooms To Go after offering, Williams said, an 80 percent property tax break.

“We give 50 percent, and the county’s talking about cutting that out,” he said. “That means jobs. ... If the states next to us have better offers, where do you think the jobs are going?”

Williams said he wants city and county leaders to sit down with other interested parties and take a realistic look at the situation.

Williams also said he would love the chance to work more with the N.C. League of Municipalities, a statewide group which lobbies on behalf of local governments. He has worked with them in the past but said he had to stop lately because his insurance business has kept him too busy — but he thinks he’ll have more free time soon.

“I can help more people than just locally,” he said.

Finally, Williams said, he’s not one to just sit around all day. He’s active in a local singing group, the Gospel Echoes, and started a social club called The Solomon Group to give retirees a place to meet up while also raising money for locals with health problems.

He’s also not one to back down from challenges or shy away from criticizing important people, he said. A self-described basketball junkie, Williams tells stories of playing pick-up in his backyard, getting beaten, and staying to practice well after everyone else had left. He said he also once sent a letter to legendary UNC-Chapel Hill coach Dean Smith urging more disciplined defense when the team was in a four-game losing streak. At the end of the season — in which the Tar Heels eventually got their act together and won the ACC — Smith wrote him back and told him he was right.