LAURINBURG — Neither of the men vying to be elected to the office of Laurinburg mayor needed much in the way of introduction at Thursday’s meeting of the Scotland County Democratic Women.
Matthew Block, the challenger to incumbent mayor Tommy Parker, served a term as mayor before Parker defeated him in 2011.
A cardiologist and New York native, Block moved to Laurinburg in 2001. He served on the Scotland County Board of Public Health and the county historic properties commission before his election as mayor in 2007.
“Everyone used to ask, why Laurinburg, like I was running from the law or something like that,” Block said. “But when I visited here they gave me the whole show and I really felt a sense of pride in the little town that could.”
Block said his first term, which brought greater focus to city beautification, as an example of the areas he would focus on if elected again, with the intent of reinventing Laurinburg as a bedroom community.
By putting emphasis on making the city attractive to newcomers as well as on developing industry, Block said that the city has potential as a “middle-class Moore County.”
“It seemed very clear that the world had changed and industry was not going to be the major backbone of our local economy as it had been in the past,” Block said.
“Yes, we needed to continue to try to get industry, but more realistically we needed to stop focusing on the past and look to the future and take a step back and see if there weren’t other avenues to explore to improve the local economy and help Laurinburg regain its footing.”
During his term as mayor, Block also began exploration of possibilities such as the N.C. Main Street program and the Certified Retirement Community program. In the last few months, the city has earned places both in the retirement community program and in the N.C. Main Street Center’s downtown associate program.
“I felt then, and now, that having a charming historic downtown is central to the formula for growth,” he said.
Parker, a Laurinburg native and owner of Parker Furniture, offered additions to the city’s retail areas, including Roses Express, Zaxby’s, and Walgreens along U.S. 401 and a handful of new small businesses downtown, as evidence that the city has experienced growth in the last four years.
The city’s beautification efforts, Parker said, have continued and increased during his term as mayor.
“We’re trying to make Laurinburg cleaner than it’s ever been; we’ve taken down 47 structures in the last four years, versus less than half of that in the previous four,” he said.
Before his election as mayor, Parker was a longtime member of the city council and also served on the Scotland County Board of Education.
The city is currently in the process of evaluating its electric rate structure, and Parker said that the city council will make adjustments in the city’s power rates before long. In August, a few thousand of the city’s electric customers were billed for as many as 39 days of power at once, which along with the rates themselves have brought complaints from those who live and do business in the city.
“We have issues in the city of Laurinburg, and I’m well aware of them,” Parker said. “We are working hard, and council will study power costs as soon as this month. Our study is being done. We have a very complicated structure, but power costs will be pretty much echoing Duke Energy costs. Then it’s the burden of the user to curtail their power cost.”
The city council has also contracted with a Charlotte architect to design a new city hall, which has also elicited protest. Parker said that a study done under Block’s tenure by an architectural firm resulted in a $5 million estimate to either build a new city hall or remodel and expand the current one.
“I know we have empty buildings in this community,” Parker said. “This is right in the study stage with a different architect. It’s moving forward, but it can be stopped at any time if a better alternative is presented.
“I’m a team player: we have a great city council and I run the plays they call.”
Also on Thursday, the Democratic meeting heard from Mitchell McIver, one of two juvenile court counselors in Scotland County, about the workings of the juvenile court system and possible changes — including an increase from 16 to 18 in the age that offenders enter the adult criminal justice system.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.