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Davonta Ferguson is challenging incumbent James Johnson III for the Wilson City Council’s District 4 seat.
Both candidates provided responses to The Wilson Times’ candidate survey. The Times sent an identical list of seven questions to all city of Wilson candidates and a separate list of questions to municipal candidates in other Wilson County towns. Responses are always published in alphabetical order by candidates’ last names.
The newspaper’s questions and candidates’ answers are as follows:
Despite economic development initiatives, Wilson County has one of North Carolina’s five highest unemployment rates. What can be done at a city level to increase employment?
FERGUSON: We need to ensure that the city supports job growth by promoting small businesses and advocating for industries to come to Wilson. This involves investing in education and career development. We do this by partnering with local and national businesses as well as institutions of learning. City government can create a tax favorable environment that will attract new businesses and increase employment opportunities.
JOHNSON: At our Oct. 3 council meeting, we agreed to test a pilot microtransit program. The 2017 Impact Initiative class project pointed to transportation as to being one of the leading obstacles preventing people from working in Wilson. If positive results are shown and it proves to be financially feasible, hopefully we would implement the program citywide.
How would you rate the city council’s downtown development efforts, and what’s still needed to make downtown Wilson a destination for residents and tourists?
FERGUSON: I first want to commend the city council’s downtown development efforts, but I still see the need for more improvements. There is a lot of work that stills needs to be done. We should be looking to increase community development efforts citywide.
JOHNSON: I would rate city and county efforts an A+, but due to state budget games with tax credits, the results are a B+. Downtown properties are being gobbled up and have increased in value at a higher percentage than most other parts of the city. A case can be made that we are already becoming a destination for residents and tourists. Other projects underway will only solidify that case.
How will you support further development along the U.S. 301 corridor to leverage the federal, state and local funds spent there?
FERGUSON: Promoting the continued development efforts by building community partnerships that are willing to be a part of the community development plan is important. This helps to promote the area and the work being done to increase sound economic development.
JOHNSON: The city council and city staff are constantly trying to improve Wilson. 301 is not any different. We were able to leverage millions of dollars to transform 301. It took more than just the city to make the changes. Federal, state and local money made it happen. We will continue to be innovative in our efforts to bring more partnerships together to continue to bring investment to 301.
Do you believe Wilson Energy should continue making a profit on customer late fees to support the Community Investment Grant Fund? Should late fees be reduced so there is no longer a profit, or should the money be used as a risk management fund to replace lump-sum residential deposits?
FERGUSON: The purpose of government should not be to make a profit, but to provide adequate services to the residents. Any extra funds should be use appropriately in accordance with federal and state laws. I support the Community Investment Grant Fund if its core purpose is to provide assistance to residents struggling to pay their utilities bill. Wilson Energy should charge reasonable late fees that are not overbearing as it relates to a resident’s payment history.
JOHNSON: (A.) Yes. Every utility has a late fee. They/we also reinvest that money and more back into their customers. (B.) No.
When historic homes qualify for condemnation due to owner neglect, how would you seek to balance the city’s public safety and aesthetic interests with private property rights and historic preservation interests?
FERGUSON: Being a lover of history and preservation, I support the protection of historical homes, sites and land. I believe that government should be reluctant to step into civil property matters unless in the interest of public safety or preservation.
JOHNSON: The current setup works well now. Until one extreme example appears, no one really talks about changes needing to happen. Most times, those cases use emotions versus the facts. There have always been checks and balances in place, Historic Properties Commission, city staff hearings, the Board of Adjustment, the Wilson City Council and the court system keep policies, facts and statues balanced.
The Parks & Recreation Master Plan calls for a significant increase in funding to satisfy the city’s needs. How do you propose paying for those improvements?
FERUGSON: There are several different ways to pay for improvements dealing with the city’s parks and recreation. Property tax increases are not a favorable option unless it is reasonable and not a burden to the residents. The city strategy should be to balance the cost for improvement by seeking certain grants and or partnerships that will decrease the burden on the taxpayers. Eliminating wasteful spending and promoting a new stream of city revenue by expanding job/business opportunities will help as well.
JOHNSON: The city is very successful in building partnerships to help provide top-notch recreation for citizens. Hopefully those partnerships will continue to help us improve on our already great recreation. I have and will continue support a rec. bond.
When you talk to someone out of town about Wilson, what’s the first thing you bring up, and why?
FERGUSON: The first thing I bring up is that Wilson is a loving community and a nice community to raise a family in. Wilson has the potential to be on the forefront of the arts, education and industry expansion because of the many talented people who call Wilson their home. It is the first thing I bring up because I grew up in Wilson and still call Wilson my home.
JOHNSON: If it is a family, my go-to is our recreation facilities and outdoor opportunities.