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Council sets five priorities for new year

By Jefferson Weaver, The News Reporter

After two tie-breaking votes, the Whiteville City Council narrowed down its list of the most urgent priorities Tuesday during a special strategic planning session.

The meeting was led by Chris May of the Cape Fear Council of Governments.

After a review of the city’s accomplishments and challenges of the past year, May asked each member of the council to write down five priorities they would like to see addressed in the coming years. 

Among the ideas posed by the council were more affordable housing, better utilization of the parks and recreation facilities, economic development, the evolving use of Vineland Station, enhancing public safety, employee retention, staying on budget with the new city hall, and utility infrastructure.

Council narrowed the list from more than 20 issues and products to six: economic development, wastewater inflow/infiltration, future planning needs, code enforcement, improved lighting at the recreation center, and enhanced public safety. 

The board briefly discussed creating a position for a city economic developer who would also be tasked with promoting and managing Vineland Station and coordinating operations of the Whiteville Downtown Development Commission. There was also extensive discussion regarding storm-water related flooding and the city’s aging water and sewer infrastructure. The board also mulled the idea of quarterly strategic meetings to review progress on target projects and issues.  

Four of the priorities –  enhanced public safety, better code enforcement, improved lighting at the recreation center, and future planning needs – tied with three votes each, leading to a runoff.

“It’s March Madness, so I’m going to use brackets,” May joked, drawing a chuckle from the council members and mayor, most of whom are basketball fans. 

Long-range planning and public safety improvements still scored the same, but a final vote nailed down the top five as economic development, wastewater infrastructure, code enforcement for junked cars and dilapidated homes, lighting at the recreation center, and enhancing public safety.

May then asked the board for volunteers to focus on each of the issues. Mayor Terry Mann and Justin Smith opted for economic development, while Councilman Jimmy Clarida asked to take on the city’s utility infrastructure. Councilman Robert Leder, who had identified derelict homes and vehicles as a priority, volunteered to coordinate progress on code enforcement. Former parks and rec director Tim Collier asked for the chance to work on lighting at the recreation park, while Mayor Pro Tem Sara Thompson said she would focus on public safety improvements.

May said that identifying the top five priorities did not mean the other issues would be forgotten.

“This is just the starting point, as you see it,” he told the board. “Once these priorities have been addressed, the council can continue to look at prioritizing the remainder of the list, or adding other issues.”

Stuart Rogers