Taylor talks about his plans for growth, revitalization in Winnsboro

Winnsboro Town Manager Jason Taylor looks to bring the downtown to new glory days. | Contributed

WINNSBORO – Two months into his new job as town manager in Winnsboro, Jason Taylor says he’s been meeting with council members, other local leaders and town staff to hear their concerns and priorities and help formulate a vision for the future.

Among the priorities on their list: improve the town’s utility services, increase utility revenue through efficiency and growth, and spur the revitalization of Winnsboro’s downtown on a 21st-century model.

“We have a new mayor, I’m new, and we’ve got a number of new staff members, within our utilities. We appreciate what’s been done in the past, but sometimes a new set of eyes can see it with a different perspective, and hopefully things can progress,” says Taylor, who previously served as county administrator for Fairfield County before taking the job with the town.

“Sometimes a new perspective can be a good thing.”

Like the county, the town has experienced significant political and staff turnover this year. But looking toward the future with development plans, Taylor says he’ll likely be working on many of the same projects because the town and county are inextricably linked.

“Regardless of what happened in the past, I see us moving forward together. We have to work together…. Our interests are essentially aligned,” he says.

“If they do good, we do good, and vice versa. If the county has [an industry] come in, that’s more jobs for our citizens and that’s more water and utilities we’re going to sell. If the town grows, I don’t think people realize it, but outside the nuclear power plant, the citizens of Winnsboro pay more collectively in property tax than any other entity.”

For the town’s utilities, Taylor says a top priority is the implementation of an electronic meter-reading system, which began under the leadership of the recently retired former mayor. Another priority will be getting the town’s water plant up and running 24 hours a day.

He says the town is uniquely positioned because of its four utilities – water, sewer, gas, and electric – which generate most of its budget. Those, he says, can be run more efficiently – a change that will benefit citizens as well as the town’s bottom line. The net goal will be expanding utility services, especially water, in order to improve the system.

“We’ve got up to 10 million gallons of water capacity that we could sell,” he says, noting that the town is currently using less than one-fifth of that capacity. “In the past I think we’ve had to turn people away because we didn’t have sufficient capacity. Well, we have that capacity now.”

Taylor says the town will also be very involved in the county’s big sewer plant project; the town is critical to moving the project forward and also has the infrastructure and expertise to operate the plant.

With regard to revitalization, Taylor says he’s been studying examples of other small towns that have found success. Some very small mountain towns, he says, have “caught lightning in a bottle” by attracting the right kinds of restaurants, brewpubs, and boutique venues.

“I want to see it a vibrant community where people want to come live, where you can walk from your house to a wonderful shop or restaurant on Main Street and quality of life is improved for our citizens. I want a downtown that is vibrant, thriving and alive, and where people want to visit and want to live,” he says.

“I think you’ve got to kind of find your niche and you’ve got to do a lot of work and planning to figure out how to make it happen.”

An important part of that planning process, he says, is recognizing that the romantic or nostalgic vision that has driven some revitalization efforts – hopes of bringing back the five-and-dime or the mom-and-pop hardware store as a downtown anchor – is misguided in the era of Walmart and Amazon.

Instead, he says, downtowns need the right mix of “atmosphere” in the form of historic buildings – and Winnsboro has plenty – and shopping and dining venues that are attractive to 21st-century visitors who are looking for something different than what’s offered by chain restaurants and big-box stores.

He says Winnsboro’s downtown center, which already has an identity and sense of place, is the perfect location for this to take place.

In the effort to bring sustainable businesses to Winnsboro’s downtown, he says the town will likely seek grants to help redo old buildings and perhaps create a spec building for retail – similar to the way industrial developers build spec buildings to attract industry.

“You’ve got to prime the pump,” he says. “We want to make it easy for them to choose Winnsboro – not have to go through a bunch of headaches, time and money before they can open a business here.

“We hope to make it easy for people to do business in downtown, and then, hopefully, success will lead to more success.”

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