Leading the Way
Athina Williams, town manager for the Town of Belville, is excited about the growth of her town.
Athina Williams has held just about every title there is in the Town of Belville. In 2007 she began her tenure as the town’s tax collector, then the finance officer, the town administrator and ultimately, town manager.
Williams, who has a background in economics and finance, began thinking about a career in local government while working as a district manager for a national tax preparation service covering six locations. At the time, the position didn’t offer benefits, and Williams wanted something that offered more stability and financial security.
Growing up, Williams’ grandmother always reinforced the idea that she needed to make her own money, which greatly influenced her professional goals. She attended college at Fayetteville State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. While she was in college, she did some work for the Census Bureau and interned at Merrill Lynch. She also developed an interest in the relationship between social issues and the economy, particularly for women.
“I especially focused on women and retirement, for three reasons,” Williams says. “First, women normally make less than men. Second, they take more time off to have and raise children and third, because they typically live longer than men.”
Williams’ interest in how life situations and the economy are intertwined is a philosophy she also applies to working at the town.
“You always have to look at the future growth and infrastructure and be able to financially forecast based on decisions that are being made today,” she says.
On the extraordinary growth that Brunswick County is experiencing as a whole, Williams is excited about what that means for the Town of Belville.
“I think it’s great,” she says. “We have two new apartment complexes coming in. We’re excited to welcome those new residents.”
A day in the life of Williams is often varied as the town manager, but she is ultimately responsible for the administration of all town departments including preparing and administering annual budgets, proposing policies for consideration by the board of commissioners and overseeing the administration and implementation of the policies and ordinances.
Her favorite part of the job is problem-solving for the issues that affect the citizens of Belville the most.
“Whether they have an issue with a building permit, a land-use problem or stormwater drainage, being able to provide the support and assistance to a situation that’s overwhelming them at the moment is what we do,” Williams says.
The most challenging part of being Belville town manager is the financial constraints that come with being a small town and the give and take.
“There are so many more things we’d like to do for our citizens, but sometimes we’re limited by our budget,” Williams says. “We do have one of the lowest tax rates in the county, and we want to maintain that, along with our small-town charm.
Williams, who is originally from Yemassee, South Carolina, between Charleston and Savannah, is passionate about history and researching it. She has traced her own family history back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She sees the role that Belville plays in its own historical preservation as an important one.
“There are a lot of interesting historical facts about Belville,” she says. “Going back to the Revolutionary War, there was a skirmish at the Belville Plantation, where the 49th Governor of North Carolina lived. There is a rich history here with the rice fields and the Gullah-Geechee people. We love for everyone to come out explore what Belville has to offer.”
The spirit of community is important to Williams as the town manager. Providing a wide variety of recreational programming and events helps bring citizens and visitors together, like the annual Fall Festival held at the Belville Riverwalk Park. Williams was instrumental in establishing the community event. The 2022 festival brought in an estimated 2,000 people.
“Thanks to our sponsors, Crest Residential, LLC and Duke Energy, it was an amazing event,” Williams says. “The festival offers something for everyone including vendors, bounce houses, food trucks and live music. It’s something that the whole family can enjoy. We’re already looking forward to next year.”
When Williams isn’t working to help the citizens of Belville, she enjoys spending her downtime with her seven-year-old son and her parents. She also enjoys making handmade cards and is an expert gift wrapper. “Apparently, I have knack for it,” she says. “Everybody brings me their Christmas and birthday gifts to wrap.”