News-Star: Opinion

Being a town requires commitment

In reading about the mostly polite spat between Wilson’s Mills and Clayton over control of a proposed subdivision near their borders, it occurred to me that the two towns differ in a fundamental way. Clayton very much wants to be a full-service town, even if those services come at a premium cost to taxpayers and utility customers. Wilson’s Mills leaders haven’t yet made that commitment, which explains why Wilson’s Mills lost won more than it won in its spat with Clayton.

Let me explain.

Ask Clayton leaders if they want to get out of the electricity business, and most will say no. Yes, electricity from Clayton costs more than power from Duke Energy, even after a recent rate cut, but that premium price guarantees that when the power goes out, a repair crew will be on the scene in minutes, not hours or days.

Ask Clayton leaders if they want to cede law enforcement to a countywide agency, and they will say no. Again, the premium price of a local police department guarantees that an officer will come quickly when called. Beyond that, law enforcement can be subjective: Does an officer write a newly minted driver a ticket or send him on his way with a stern warning, knowing that a ticket would drive up the cost of auto insurance for mom and dad? Clayton leaders would rather their police chief make that decision than a sheriff sitting in Smithfield.

One can debate the merits of Clayton’s position on such matters – trust me, I have done so – but one cannot question the town’s commitment to offering services that are responsive because they are decidedly local. As another example, Clayton is surely the envy of Johnston County towns when it comes to prepping its streets for winter weather and then clearing streets when the severity of a winter storm overwhelms those preparations.

Frankly, I don’t sense the same commitment from Wilson’s Mills leaders. Yes, the town has a police force, but it fielded one, at least initially, because Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell told Wilson’s Mills leaders his deputies were done providing a town function.

I’m not criticizing Wilson’s Mills leaders for their position on town services. Indeed, if I had to choose, I’d choose Wilson’s Mills’ property-tax rate over Clayton’s.

But if Wilson’s Mills leaders wonder why they’re losing the development battle to Clayton, the answer, to some extent at least, is commitment to being a full-service town. Clayton long ago made that commitment. Wilson’s Mills leaders have not yet done so.

Scott Bolejack: 919-836-5747, @ScottBolejack