A year end review as officials look to revitalize Winnsboro

Winnsboro Town Manager Jason Taylor, center, Director of Streets & Sanitation, Calvin Johnson, left, and Assistant Town Manager for Development Chris Clauson are shown here at the Winnsboro Water Treatment Plant.

WINNSBORO – Winnsboro Town Manager Jason Taylor said recently that, “one of the things nearest and dearest to me is to see downtown Winnsboro revitalized.”

With a couple of $500K grants under the Town’s belt this year and the prospect of more next year, the annexation of more than a hundred properties into the Town, a newly passed code enforcement ordinance with a bite, and the likelihood of a newly cooperative county government, Taylor says the prospects for genuine revitalization of Winnsboro are taking shape.

Taylor talked with The Voice earlier this week about some of the Town’s accomplishments this past year that are setting up that revitalization.

New Code Enforcement

Town Council recently passed a new code enforcement ordinance that Taylor says gives the Town the tools and the teeth needed to clean up many of the town’s blighted properties.

“In the past,” Taylor said, “we really did not have an ordinance in place that allowed us to aggressively enforce a lot of the code violations and/or clean up derelict properties that we have around town. So this code enforcement ordinance is a huge step toward revitalization of the town.

“We’re now starting to meet with property owners to talk about blight and the enforcement process and let them know that the condition of their property has to be dealt with or they will be facing consequences,” Taylor said. “To that end, we’ve begun acquiring a number of properties with dilapidated houses. We’ve already taken down three of those houses and will be clearing out others.”

Taylor said the properties are not only being cleaned up, but are being turned into greenspaces that can be added to existing parks or they can go into the Town’s new redevelopment bank to promote new development in the town.

The properties are desirable to build on because they already have water, sewer, roads and sidewalks,” Taylor said. “They’re ready to go.”

The redevelopment bank allows council to sell, rent and lease property as incentives to bring redevelopment to the town.

“This not only improves our neighborhoods, but it helps market our utilities,” Taylor said. “Empty buildings and lots don’t pay gas, water, sewer and electric bills.”

Annexation

Since council’s elimination last year of the $500 fee for annexation into the town, Winnsboro began seeing a surge in interest from property owners.

“There are no longer any fees associated with an annexation petition,” Taylor said, “and we’ve annexed over 100 properties into the town. Now those residents can access trash pickup and have lower utility rates. Ultimately, the more property that is brought into the Town creates a more consolidated service delivery territory. Police, fire, and trash services are made easier for the Town and County when less holes are present in service territories.”

Water Meter Upgrades

The water department has completed upgrading the water meter reading system for Blythewood customers, a program that was initiated when Mayor John McMeekin was on the town council.

“We’ll be implementing that for Winnsboro customers this year as soon as the supplier can get the rest of the equipment,” McMeekin said. “This is a huge project for us and will be a tremendous help in getting correct water bills out to our customers in a timely fashion.”

McMeekin said the town’s water plant is now running independently of Columbia water on a day-to-day basis.

“This is a huge savings to our water customers,” he said.

Ferguson Waterworks representative Rob Watson, left, explains to Winnsboro Mayor John McMeekin how the data from the town’s new smart meters, which Watson is holding, is transmitted every hour via a transmitter, held by McMeekin, to an antenna on a water tower and then to the town’s billing office.

Safety Cameras

To provide greater safety for the town’s citizens and to assist law enforcement in more quickly solving crimes, Taylor said 10 safety cameras have now been placed in strategic locations around the town.

Originally installed last fall to help the Winnsboro Public Safety Department deal with six months of drive-by shootings, the cameras are not just motion detectors, but can be checked at any time to see who has come and gone in various parts of town.

“The cameras have proven to be a great help in deterring crime,” Town officials say.

WDPS Fully Staffed

“Another plus for the town is that we hired Kevin Lawrence as Interim Police Chief of the Winnsboro Department of Public Safety last fall, and he has done a wonderful job recruiting certified officers and bringing the department back up to full staffing,” Taylor said. “We now have the ability to work traffic enforcement, do drug enforcement and other things which we had not been doing as well as we should have.

New Animal Control Ordinance

“While it might not be what some people would consider revitalization, our new animal control ordinance is another step to a better town. We’re very proud of the new ordinance that council passed earlier this year,” Taylor said. “We wanted something that would mirror the county’s animal ordinance so that implementation and enforcement would be much easier. This is something that was very much needed for the town.”

Armory Rehab

Much of the process of rehabbing the Old Armory building was also completed this year – new flooring, painting and the building will soon be getting a new heating and air conditioning system.

“This is a very popular event venue,” Taylor said, “and especially so now with the new upgrades. Once we get the ceiling painted it will be very nice. It’s just a wonderful building and a very useful size for many kinds of events.”

New County/Town Harmony

“One thing we’re really looking forward to is working with the county on several projects, things like resolving the controversial trash dispute,” Taylor said. “That was an unfortunate situation. We felt we had to take legal action to protect our customers, so that’s what we did. But we’re looking forward to working that out peacefully with the new council.”

Marketing Utilities

“We are now getting ready to fully market the Town’s utilities,” Taylor said. “Mayor McMeekin, is chairman of the Joint Water and Sewer Authority, and we’re spearheading working with the county and Ridgeway, moving forward with the expansion of utilities to promote economic development throughout the county. This is going to be good for both the county and the towns.”

Grants

With help from House Rep. Annie McDaniel, the Town has received two $500,000 grants this year.

“Representative McDaniel has worked hard to get us this money and the hope is that we may be able to get more next year,” Taylor said.

One of the grants was used to purchase a generator for the sewer plant to prevent service interruption during storms and to make the plant safer for employees. A $100,000 grant was used to purchase an automatic feed system that keeps chemicals in the water balanced.

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

Revitalization

Taylor said the other $500,000 grant is allowing the Town to start the downtown revitalization in earnest.

“Town Council, Mayor McMeekin and I are looking forward to this next year really aggressively going after the revitalization of the downtown,” Taylor said. “This kind of money gives us the ability to acquire downtown properties that we can renovate for, essentially, speculative retail space.

“I think there’s a renewed interest in working together to bring revitalization to the town,” Taylor said. “This is a great opportunity, and we just have to do what it takes to get it going.”

“The model many towns have used successfully, is to get heavily involved in helping rehab old buildings, purchase buildings, and put these buildings out for businesses at a very low incentive rate,” he said. “Then, as those businesses become successful, we need to work with their owners to be sure they can own that building.

“To proceed forward successfully, it can’t be just hoping and doing a little,” Taylor said. “The Town must get heavily involved as did Newberry, Camden and Rock Hill. So we’re looking at what others have done successfully and then trying to make that work for the Town of Winnsboro.”

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